Thursday, December 23, 2021

Vigil, on Peacock

This BBC-produced miniseries might have been set in the state of Georgia rather than Scotland. Had the Scottish independence referendum passed, the Atlantic Fleet’s King’s Bay submarine base was one of the proposed contingency homes for the United Kingdom’s Vanguard subs (being a NATO port). Apparently, nationalist politicians are still determined to evict the UK’s nuclear subs and they are willing to capitalize on a murder committed on-board to do so. Initially, a civilian DCI finds herself investigating the suspicious death, but she is soon pulled into a web of sabotage, espionage, and politics in Tom Edge’s Vigil, which premieres today on Peacock.

The Royal Navy surely has its equivalents to MPs and the NCIS so the idea DCI Amy Silva would be dropped from a helicopter into HMS Vigil’s hatch is a bit far-fetched. In the US Navy, sub crew are thoroughly vetted both physically and emotionally, to ensure they can withstand the demands of submerged service. Presumably, the Royal Navy does likewise, so it is unlikely a malcontent like the late Craig Burke and his thuggish nemesis Gary Walsh would be assigned such duty. Of course, you could never find submarine passages wide enough for sailors to walk side-by-side, but hey, dramatic license.

Regardless, if you can get past the dubiousness of
Vigil’s premise, its sub-bound dramatic dynamics, and the unrealistic representation of its setting, it is actually a surprisingly suspenseful thriller. As Silva investigates the crime scene, her colleague (and ex-lover) DS Kirsten Longacre dives into Burke’s history, including his romantic involvement with a woman active in the Scottish anti-nuclear movement.

Of course, much like the “three-hour cruise” of
Gilligan’s Island, Silva’s three-day embedment with Vigil is soon extended, due to grave mechanical problems and ominous Russian submarine activity. Supposedly, the coxswain, Warrant Officer Elliot Glover will be facilitating her inquiries, but nobody wants to talk to her. Inevitably though, the Vigil’s captain, Commander Neil Newsome starts to begrudgingly respect her, as she uncovers information on the secret sabotage campaign, mostly likely related to Burke’s murder.

Even if it does not pass muster with
Jane’s Defense Weekly readers, Vigil’s procedural mystery and submarine techno-thriller elements are totally grabby and addictively compelling. On the other hand, the flashbacks to Silva’s backstory, including guilt over the death of her pseudo-fiancĂ©, her relationship with her presumptive step-daughter, and her aborted romance with Longacre, are whiny, overwrought, and gratingly distracting from everything that actually works in Vigil. If we could cut out all that cringy melodrama, it would probably be a much tighter and tonally consistent five episodes, versus six with the bloated soap opera interludes.

That said, Suranne Jones and Rose Leslie are both very good when they get to play competent, intuitive cops, rather than wounded lovers. Paterson Joseph plays Commander Newsome with a 100% credible military bearing, but also with an appropriate edge, given his somewhat tense relationship with his overbearing, politically connected executive officer Lt. Commander Mark Prentice. Initially, Prentice is positioned as a cliched martinet, but Adam James nicely fleshes him out, as he becomes more complicated in later episodes. Shaun Evans also solidly portrays Glover’s intriguing ambiguity and Stephen Dillane is all business as Admiral Shaw, the serious-as-a-heart-attack commander of the Valiant fleet.

Vigil’s military advisor is reportedly married to a SNP politician (Scotland’s leftwing independence party), the truth is, it makes the peace activists and SNP-like pols look appallingly opportunistic and morally duplicitous. If this accurately represents the peace movement, let’s give the war-mongers a chance. Some speculate Vigil was intended to undercut popular support for the UK’s nuclear deterrent, but it might actually do the opposite. There are a lot of twists and turns to the geopolitical tale, but the baddest of the bad guys are Russians, who most certainly pose a clear and present danger.

That means
Vigil is terrible as propaganda, not-great as melodrama, but really effective as a submarine thriller. We’ll take a good sub thriller any day. After all, we grew up in the Tom Clancy era. It will lure you in and pull you through, maybe even despite yourself. Recommended for fans of JAG-NCIS-style military procedurals, Vigil starts streaming today (12/23) on Peacock.