Vigil is the latest series made by World Productions, the production company behind Line of Duty and The Bodyguard. The BBC has been advertising Vigil as their most popular show of 2021.
Craig Burke (Martin Compston), a sonar mapper on HMS Vigil has been found dead. Due to the death happening in British territorial waters, a civilian police officer, DCI Amy Silva (Suranne Jones), is sent to investigate. Silva believes the death was a murder and she investigates on the sub, whilst her partner, DS Kirsten Longacre (Rose Leslie), and the rest of the Scottish police do their job on land. They must determine whether the crime was personal, a cover-up, or the work of outside forces.
The BBC and World Productions wanted to make a statement with this show. It had an all-star cast of British talent that included Suranne Jones (Gentleman Jack), Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones), Shaun Evans (Endeavour), Paterson Joseph (Peep Show), and Stephen Dillane (Game of Thrones). Martin Compston’s role was small considering he stars in one of the biggest shows on British TV. The BBC promoted the show for months and even after the show has aired, they are still promoting it.
Vigil had a great set-up because it was the ultimate lock-room mystery. The murderer had to be on the submarine. It was something Agatha Christine would have come up with. For fans of police procedurals and techno-thrillers like Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October, Vigil should be a delight. This series had a traditional murder investigation story that was filled with suspects, motivations, and red herrings. The submarine crew had to deal with life-threatening situations and there were wider issues involving British politics, the military, intelligence, and Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
Vigil had to keep a lot of plates spinning throughout and this adds to the intrigue. All these plotlines kept the levels of intrigue high because they kept asking questions. Audiences will be kept guessing and wondering. The show was able to have lots of moments of tension and excitement. Many of the episodes ended on cliffhangers which made it great for binge-watching. However, the use of all the story elements was a double-edged sword because numerous storylines ended up unresolved and pointless. A great example of this was the role of the US Navy in the series. It was set up to be a major part of the series, but their role in the series disappeared just as quickly.
Another issue was the pacing of the series. After so much going on in the first three episodes the fourth episode ended up being a let-down because it slowed things down so much. The series threw up so many twists that it strained the story. Vigil would have benefited more from a shorter run of four episodes instead of six.
Vigil has been criticized for its inaccuracies and for having an anti-nuclear stance. The premise was flimsy because if a death happened on a submarine then it would probably be the military police who would investigate, not civilian police. This was a series that showed an untrained civilian going around a submarine. Former Naval officers have pointed out a real nuclear submarine would be a lot more cramped, and submariners would be a lot more disciplined. Some of these changes were done for the sake of drama and making filming a lot easier. But even people with a basic knowledge of submarines would know their crews would be some of the most disciplined in the navy. When one character revealed why he worked with the Russians I wanted to shout out ‘how stupid are you?’
As well as being a police and military thriller, Vigil had a personal element. Silva was a woman who had a lot of baggage and had to deal with issues of grief and depression. It’s a regular feature in detective fiction to show the main character having personal struggles of some sort. This was probably why Jones took on the role because it made Silva a meatier role than just a detective investigating a crime.
Vigil had a great setup for a murder mystery and techno-thriller and there’s enough in the series to please fans of those types of stories. But it was a show that got ridiculous with all its reveals and was unable to maintain its momentum. Vigil doesn’t match the heights of Line of Duty and Bodyguard.