Rating – ⭐⭐⭐
From the producers of Line of Duty, the latest BBC drama to hit our screens is Tom Edge’s Vigil, starring the BBC’s drama darling Suranne Jones as a DCI sent on board a Navy submarine to investigate a suspicious death.
This show has it all for the Sunday BBC drama viewers; murder on a submarine, drugs, conspiracies, corruption, Russian spies, and sabotage. What more could you want for your typical BBC crime drama? Oh, an inappropriate workplace affair? They have that covered as well.
Vigil is a delightfully absurd series that just gets more outlandish as it goes on. From what starts off as a show that has promise as a subtle commentary on naval corruption and mistreatment of co-workers in a highly intensive environment – with an interesting take on the social and moral dilemma of nuclear weapons – devolves into an increasingly ridiculous attempt at a spy conspiracy.
Our protagonist DCI Silva (Jones) is the outsider on board, and is very much out of her depth (pun intended). The decision to nominate the DCI with severe trauma and a near-drowning experience for the submarine investigation was an odd choice made by her superiors, but it does add an extra element of tension to her investigation. Jones’ subtle performance helps to make Silva endearing enough to the audience that the ridiculousness of her posting is almost overruled.
The investigation on land is fronted by Silva’s ex-girlfriend Kirsten, portrayed by Rose Leslie – again a choice made by the show’s writers to create another layer to the investigation that goes beyond the obvious initial crime. Leslie’s performance as the growingly exasperated detective mirrors the audience in tone as we are all frustrated at the blatant corruption going on.
The show’s take on corruption is clearly something that has come from the makers of Line of Duty, a trope that the BBC is quickly leaning into considering that show’s success at sweeping the nation. This is why Vigil, despite not offering us anything new or outstandingly creative, is entertaining and popular: there is already an established audience for this genre and it very much follows the same formula as its predecessors.
The penultimate episode of the show exemplifies this. A part of the submarine is exposed to a nerve agent and Silva, along with Shaun Evans’ Glover, volunteer to investigate the crime scene. The final sequence in the episode has them sealed into diving gear that will only contain them for a limited time and at a high risk of exposure to the poisonous gas.
This scenario on the surface is ridiculous, yet as the stakes for a piece of television drama it ticks all the right boxes to grip the audience and keep them intrigued enough for the impending series finale. In fact, the events in episode five I think are enough to redeem the show from its previous, slower paced middle episodes, which had begun to limit people’s interest.
Overall, as ridiculous as the choices made by the writing team (and thus the trained naval, medical and police officers in this show) are, they have created the perfect recipe for the Sunday evening drama slot. Entertaining and tense, this show is poised to have large viewing figures for its final instalment, proving that television doesn’t necessarily always need to be ground-breaking to capture the nation’s attention.
Image: Gage Skidmore