In the saturated market of British crime dramas, Vigil’s naval narrative holds its own through international politics, submarine warfare and an on-the-nose whodunnit. While Surrane Jones shines in the leading archetype she’s spent years perfecting, the series loses momentum at the halfway point before rebounding with a shocking finale.
If there’s one thing Britain’s nightly television audience can confidently navigate, it’s primetime crime drama. Finding a unique selling point and adding a fresh layer of watchable content feels nigh on impossible, yet Vigil is able to charter the elusive waters of untold narrative. Delivered by a team behind prior smash hits like Judy and Strike, it stood to reason that Vigil would take a rightful place in the police procedural hall of fame before it even began. Yet somehow, it seems even the mighty manage to drop the baton of greatness mid-race.
Centering around the death of a crew member onboard the Trident nuclear HMS Vigil, the miniseries explores the intersections between international relations, public perception of military forces, and the unyielding power held by governmental bodies. In the midst of this global struggle lies DCI Amy Silva (Surrane Jones), sent onboard to crack the case while simultaneously dealing with the trauma of her late partner’s death. We find an unlikely yet tender romantic connection in DS Kirsten Longacre (Rose Leslie), alongside fraught dynamics between the remaining members of HMS Vigil’s crew. All in all, the series is a feast for the mind’s eye.
From the opening minutes of its first episode, it’s clear that Vigil knows what it is, and what it wants to achieve. Delicious accents of sabotage are interwoven between a methodical plot, creating a successful criminal investigation. Additionally, the back-and-forth between land and sea creates a unique dimension many crime dramas don’t have the luxury of facilitating. To the everyday Joe, an entirely new world of naval warfare is opened wide for us to delve into. As well as the satisfaction of a criminal case, we remain hooked by the inner workings of the British Navy, its links to MI5 and the Ministry of Defence, and the national divisions caused by Trident. It’s this thread that keeps us coming back when the investigation fades into a tired monotony—a never-ending truth that isn’t likely to be resolved in our lifetime.
It goes without saying the show’s star quality is planted firmly at the feet of Surrane Jones. This is the kind of role she’s most known for, fronting some of the UK’s most loved crime shows over the last decade. Jones works her magic once more, navigating the fine line between professionally self-assured and personally fragile. Even though her fears and backstory may seem too coincidental to be plausible, it’s easily overlooked. Rose Leslie provides the ideal antidote to Jones’ painful journey of self-discovery, resulting in the rarely seen happy ending for a lesbian couple in mainstream media.
The wider commentary examining if the navy is fit for purpose is encouraging to see in the mainstream, but it may ultimately be to the detriment of the drama itself. At times, the criminal investigation can feel like a pantomime farce, as if the audience is locked in the drawing-room with Poirot pointing the finger at the seemingly guilty, one by one. The halfway point of episode 3 begged the question of the narrative being stretched to fit a conventional series commission, which arguably could have been more effectively achieved across 4 or 5 episodes. Regardless, there are careful layers of detailed precision at play throughout, flashes of visual horror brought to a shocking climax that makes for hands-over-the-eyes viewing.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a piqued national interest in naval activity, with Vigil making every niche detail accessible while rightfully calling them into question. The series will easily be held up as the standard for police procedurals to come, transporting us into an unseen reality away from the crime lab, station, or eerie woodland. The overt simplicity of its whodunnit may have left the series floundering in the mid-point wilderness, and the downside of its USP submarine setting means the investigation drama can only be taken so far. Nevertheless, the detachment from the lives of the everyday man keeps the hook of this unexpected narrative firmly sharpened.
Words by Jasmine Valentine.
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