Vigil review: BBC’s claustrophobic thriller set against Trident backdrop will have Line of Duty fans hooked

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Set on board the Royal Navy’s HMS Vigil, the new drama stars Suranne Jones and Martin Compston

(Only the Episodes 1 and 2 were made available for review)

First things first - Submarines are cool.

Just think of the films: Hunt for Red of October, K-19, 2000 Leagues Under the Sea. These are cool films, about cool boats, diving into the depths of the cool sea.

Even Wes Anderson understood the assignment with his film The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou, which featured a stunning yellow sub.

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The BBC’s new six-part crime drama, Vigil, may lack the white-bearded majesty of Sean Connery or Bill Murray, but it features intrigue, suspense and just the right amount of claustrophobia to have viewers instantly hooked.

Created by World Productions (Line Of Duty, The Pembrokeshire Murders, Save Me, Bodyguard) Vigil’s plot is as intriguing as you would expect. . A crew member has died under questionable circumstances. A fishing trawler has disappeared, and in true Line of Duty style, with very few questions asked, all your attention is diverted from the prime suspects.

DCI Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) is given the task of descending into HMS Vigil to investigate the death with one crucial caveat - the submarine must stay on patrol so that the UK’s nuclear deterrent remains unbroken. Although she suspects foul play, a new threat overshadows her initial inquiry when the ship’s crew closes ranks on her investigation,

Amy’s descent onto the submarine isn’t quite as thrilling as the teaser trailer, with some dodgy CGI eliminating the drama, but no one can blame the BBC for not having Marvel’s budget..

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Once she’s on board, we’re given a brisk walk through the ins and outs of a submarine, how it works, and the wild gender imbalance (eight women and 140 men) on board. Didn’t know a submarine is called a boat not a ship? You do now.

Every Navy vessel needs a puffed up British officer, and Lt Commander Mark Prentice is played perfectly by Adam James (Belgravia, Doctor Foster), while Shaun Evans (Endeavour, Teachers) is charming enough as the “walking HR department”, Coxswain Elliot Glover.

DS Kirsten Longacre (Rose Leslie) leads the investigation on the dreich Ayrshire mainland. Leslie brings some of the charm that won over Game of Thrones fans as a slightly stubborn Scottish detective.

Away from the police procedural script, the real drama begins to unfold with the  complexities of submarine warfare quickly laid bare. Captain Newsome, played by a typically good Paterson Joseph, does the talking, and the stakes get raised even higher.

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This isn’t just a case of stopping the boat and pulling ashore. Why would it be? We may not be at war, but as Captain Newsome reminds DCI Silva, it’s an illusion: “We have always been at war”. It may be over the top, but it feels justified. Nuclear warfare is no laughing matter.

The politics of the UK’s Trident programme will no doubt appear very soon in the series, but the show does enough in its first episode to tease the audience into questioning their own thoughts on whether billions should be spent on nuclear deterrents.

With Line of Duty and Bodyguard, World Productions have had success at pulling the veil and asking questions about some of the UK’s most guarded areas of society. They’ve taken a step further with Vigil, and I for one can’t wait to see where the submarine takes us next.

Episode one of Vigil premieres on BBC One and BBC iPlayer at 9pm on Sunday 29 August, with episode two at 9pm on Bank Holiday Monday, 30 August. Vigil will then continue each Sunday night, with new episodes premiering weekly on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

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