Getting To The Bottom Of The Mystery
Vigil is a new BBC drama which started on Sunday and here’s its star Suranne Jones talking about it…
Please describe Vigil to us.
In a nutshell, there’s a missing Scottish trawler and a mysterious death aboard a submarine, HMS Vigil. Because of where the submarine was when the death occurred, the Navy have to bring in the police to investigate. They bring in my character, DCI Amy Silva, who has to go on to the submarine to investigate the death. It’s a double investigation, with myself, as Amy, aboard the submarine at sea, and DS Kirsten Longacre, played by the brilliant Rose Leslie, investigating on land.
Amy’s supposed to be on Vigil for three days, but she uncovers lots of other things and becomes trapped down there for longer. Due to Navy protocols she has no way of openly communicating with the land investigation – the only way Amy and Kirsten can contact each other is through (heavily monitored) telegrams. But that’s why Amy chose Kirsten for this mission – because they have a history, and she asks Kirsten to put hidden messages about elements of the land investigation that may impact her underwater investigation.
Do Amy and the Vigil crew get on well?
When she gets down there Amy and the crew clash, because they don’t know who actually has the authority out of the Navy and the police. The crew think they do, because Amy’s in their world and aboard their ship, but actually Amy’s holding a criminal investigation. So there are no clear rules as such, and no one has control over the other, which is really interesting.
How would you describe Amy?
Complex, and not afraid to show who’s boss. Amy is a complicated, modern, quite vulnerable – when we first meet her – police officer. She’s single (having broken up with Kirsten), and she is concentrating on work. That’s all she has in her life at present.
To say she feels claustrophobic and caught in a boy’s world when aboard Vigil is an understatement. I think she does really well. She has anxiety and depression, and usually she’s on medication and exercises a lot to cope with her condition. But when she’s down on the submarine she loses all of that. She doesn’t have enough medication, she can’t exercise, so that impacts her a great deal as well.
When she gets the call at the start of the series we follow her on to the submarine. It’s at this point Tom Edge does something really clever; Amy is trapped under the water and she has time to look at her life. So during the criminal investigation there’s another investigation going on, which is Amy looking at who she is and what she’s been missing. It gives her time to really take a look at who she is and what she needs to do. I don’t want to give too much away, but at that point we, as viewers, learn about two key personal relationships in her life, one being her relationship with Kirsten, and another from before that. And she does this at the same time as trying to solve a murder. As you do!
What do you think sets Vigil apart from other dramas?
I think what the team has tried to do is really modern. Because we’ve got a real, old-fashioned boys-y thriller, in the fact it’s set on a submarine and it’s a police investigation. And they’ve put two female leads at the heart of it, which I think is brilliant and modern and refreshing. And there’s also a love story between these two leads that we’re uncovering at the same time, but it doesn’t clash in any way with the thriller elements of the plot.
What’s brilliant is Vigil teaches you about what goes on under the water aboard a submarine, and also it’s political enough without taking away from being an entertaining, mainstream TV show. I think that’s what Tom Edge has done really well – and World Productions obviously do really well with Line Of Duty. It touches on relevant and important subjects, but still keeps the entertainment value. And on top of all of that there’s the love story of a woman – Amy – who falls in love with another woman – Kirsten – in the midst of all this, and is struggling because it’s the first woman she’s ever fallen in love with. It makes it super complex, but Vigil has managed to do it and I think it’s a really special piece. Rose Leslie is one of the most glorious human beings I’ve ever met, as is Shaun Evans. I was just blessed with those two people.
Because it’s set on a submarine, the tension of the show is already written into it. Plus it has some brilliant shots, with the technology we have now for FX. It’s amazing – some scenes, when we filmed them they didn’t look anything like the finished product. I was hung above a car park on a rope at one point, but it looks entirely different and much better in the show!
Is it true you did your own stunts?
I did. When I first read the script I was like “oh my god this sounds amazing – I get to do all these stunts!”. But I forgot how old I was. I thought I was 23 when I was reading it, and that’s not true anymore! So I had to do a lot of working out just to build up my strength in order to do those scenes. And then we had a gap partway through filming because of lockdown, and anyone who had a bit of lockdown belly will know it’s quite hard to get your strengths up after that. Most of the stunts were when we were coming back after the break, so that was quite hard to build myself back up.
I got whiplash, I put my back out a couple of times, I was covered in bruises. Every time I went home my husband was like, “what the hell have they done to you now?”. It was fun to do and I watch the finished series and go “Oh, Amy’s great!”. But I was hobbling home and having Epsom salt baths during filming!
Over the series we learn more about Amy’s earlier life and what she’s been through, don’t we?
When we first meet Amy she’s in a place of loss, grief, guilt, and trauma from a decision she made. You learn more about that as the series goes on. Amy is coping – she has all the things in place to have her life functioning, but whether she is enjoying her life is another thing. And work has taken over. And then she meets Kirsten, and Kirsten brings life and soul and brightness back into her life. Kirsten makes her laugh, and just fills her life with everything she’d been missing. Only she’s a woman, and that confuses Amy.
What’s beautiful is we have the complexity of a woman who has fallen for another human being and now has to realign who and what she thought she was. I guess she’s also struggling with what other people will think of that new relationship. I did some research and spoke to a lot of women, and it can be a really tricky time for someone who has previously been straight, to adapt to those new feelings and to understand them. And so there was a relationship between Amy and Kirsten, but it stopped. When we first meet Kirsten and Amy they’re in a state of anger and confusion. There’s a lot going on in this piece! Both that and the criminal investigation will hopefully keep people on their toes.
As well as Amy’s scenes on land with Kirsten, you spent a lot of time on the submarine set. How was that?
The set just blew my mind. The size of the subs in real life are extraordinary – they’re like four floors, with a bomb shop and missile room. The details that the designers put in is quite something, especially as they couldn’t get blueprints of real submarines to work from, because you’re not allowed to have them. So they had to be talked through what was there by people who had first-hand knowledge of submarines, and then come up with their own design off the back of that.
Filming on the Vigil set was great. It was claustrophobic. I mean, the beds alone. There’s a great scene where Amy tries to get in her bunk bed. I’m quite tall and not of small build, and the director was like “can you get up there a little more gracefully?” Because I just couldn’t do it, because they’re so small.
What other research did you do?
I didn’t want to do too much research into the submarine life, because I wanted to discover it with Amy across the course of the series. But I did go and see a detective. The first thing she said was “What?! They wouldn’t send you down there, it would have to be extreme circumstances for that to happen!” And I said: but it is an extreme circumstance. It’s a submarine that needs police investigation but can’t come back to dock – I have to go to it, and they have to drop me on to it from a helicopter in the middle of the sea.
I spoke to her to learn more about the work of a detective, and I’ve played a couple of detectives before so I knew the lingo. I’m not a fan of doing lots of detective lingo because my brain shuts off (laughs), because it’s not easy to speak! I trained for the stunts, too. So it was a case of preparing myself for the police side and then training for the stunts, and then I found out the sub stuff as I went along, like Amy does.
I happen to have had experience with anxiety and depression myself, and have been on medication, so my life research was enough for that. It’s a really modern theme and I’m glad that we’re covering it in the way that we are, and putting it into a mainstream show that covers it within entertainment. Because I think things talk to an audience when they’re being entertained. I think that’s the best way we get interested in stuff. Think how many times you have watched a show and been on google looking subjects up that are covered. Sometimes we discount it as ‘it’s just a TV show’, but actually I think it’s a really important way of educating people.
What attracted you to Vigil?
I think I was attracted to Vigil because of what it was trying to do. It was trying to be something different. It was trying to have a different voice in the landscape of TV. It’s a boys-y show, a boys-y thriller with two females at the heart of it. And a complex storyline about sexuality. You put all of that together and I think what they were trying to do with it really spoke to me and I thought, this is the way we should be going now. It shouldn’t be unusual for a show to have all those elements in it. It should just be a TV show, and a really really bloody good one. So that’s what attracted me at first. And the stunts! And then I realised they were hard (laughs).
Getting To The Bottom Of The Mystery Vigil is a new BBC drama which started on Sunday and here’s its star Suranne Jones talking about it… Please describe Vigil to us. In a nutshell, there’s a missing Scottish trawler and a mysterious death aboard a submarine, HMS Vigil. Because of where the submarine was when
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