Vigil episode one review: Explosive new BBC1 drama keeps us guessing
You wouldn’t catch me in a submarine. Not a yellow one with the Beatles as the cabaret, not one jam-packed with the Tartan Army bound for a World Cup far across the oceans - not even with Suranne Jones along for the journey.
Jones has no option here. She’s DCI Amy Silva, investigating a suspicious death on board nuclear sub Vigil which is also the name of this BBC1 crime thriller set in Scottish waters. Did she and Nicola Walker arm-wrestle for this one? They seem to divide up pretty much all TV between them.
Does Vigil rate as a win or a loss? A win, surely, given that it comes with the tagline “ … from the makers of Line of Duty” and it’s got Martin Compston. Ah, but Compston dies in the first eight minutes. And Jones then has to face up to long days and nights in a giant cigar case stuffed with world-ending explosives and 140 smelly men. There’s reduced oxygen and, I bet, just a few board games with some pieces missing and a couple of tatty Dan Browns.
Before then, Jones must be dropped from a helicopter while the sub sits atop the churning waves. Even if this sequence was filmed in the open-air swimming pool at Gourock it’s impressive. And the opening scene - trawler snared on something down below, fishermen dragged to their doom - is terrifying.
Compston as Chief Petty Officer Craig Burke - freed up from Line of Duty’s cockernee to speak in his native Greenockian - spots the drama on the radar and wants Vigil to rush to the rescue. He’s shouted down and a short while later is found dead in his bunk, apparently after a drug overdose.
Jones doesn’t need to dig out the Cluedo to decide: “It’s murder.” But no one is in a rush to help the investigation which she must attempt in between spells of wooziness which induce flashbacks of some past trauma in her life.
She challenges the commander, Neil Newsome (Paterson Joseph), demanding to know if Vigil did down the trawler. No, he says, but an enemy sub might have done. Putin is glimpsed in the titles; is he about to launch an attack via the Clyde? “If we’ve been successfully shadowed,” adds Newsome, “then that’s the single most frightening development in submarine warfare in my lifetime.”
What a stirring line, and one typical of submarine top brass. Did Sean Connery not pronounce something similar in The Hunt for Red October - the movie where he spoke Russian with a Fountainbridge accent? Did John Mills not do this in We Dive at Dawn - or was he referring to scratchy Navy-issue polo-neck jumpers being the single most frightening development?
The setting makes Vigil, which continues tonight. We’re a million miles - or 20,000 leagues - away from drab incident rooms, empty crimebusters’ fridges, gloomy warehouses for the finales. Compston re-appears at the end of the first episode in a video message when it’s revealed his girlfriend is an anti-Trident protester. Rose Leslie plays Jones’ sidekick back on dry land and maybe she’s more than that to our panting investigator who already suffers from anxiety and depression and so hardly seems the best candidate for this job.
But she’s Suranne Jones, isn’t she?