“Vigil” on Arte: Heroin on the seabed

Perhaps the secret to the success of the submarine film genre is simply its limited possibilities. Stories of war and espionage in narrow rooms and corridors with a few, constantly stressed characters who are often exposed to invisible dangers: On the one hand, this is absolutely self-propelled for filmmakers and, on the other hand, has already got some directors and cameraman really on course. Wolfgang Petersen’s “Das Boot”, for example, not only set standards in terms of the use of the camera, but also packed much more than just a war story into the narrow submersible.

At the BBC they must have thought that this crash course in strictly limited storytelling would do the screenwriter Tom Edge very well and ordered a submarine series from him. Edge became famous with the sitcom Lovesick and the biopic Judy on actress Judy Garland. An interesting choice for a submarine thriller. In any case, Edge dived deep into the subject and came up with the six-part mini-series Vigil again, which ran in Great Britain in the summer and sparked a small political discussion there. Because a few lost scandals had come on board as stowaways, so to speak.

It is about a fishing boat that is being pulled into the depths for unexplained reasons, along with its crew, and about a sailor who is dead in his bunk on the fictional British nuclear submarine Vigil located. Probably a heroin overdose. Murder is bad for your image, but drugs? On a nuclear submarine? Discipline is everything on such a floating arsenal. Because the Vigil is part of the “Trident” program, the UK’s strategy to deter attacks with nuclear weapons. Always at least one in four such atomically armed boats is somewhere under the sea surface, because if someone (i.e. the Russians) should come up with the idea of ​​firing nuclear weapons at the British Isles, the Royal Navy would at least still want to be able to to answer appropriately. The martial twist on British courtesy. Greetings to Moscow.

Since the navy cannot afford to be naked with this strategy, the investigations into the case of the dead seaman must, so to speak, take place while operations are still in progress. Policewoman Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) is therefore flown to the secret submarine and has to investigate underwater and without contact with the outside world. Meanwhile, her colleague Kirsten Longacre (Leslie Rose, well-known) goes ashore Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey) follow in the footsteps of the protesters who are protesting against the government’s nuclear deterrent strategy in front of the submarine port in Faslane, Scotland.

"Vigil" on Arte: On land, the trail leads Kirsten Longacre (Leslie Rose) into the camp of the nuclear opponents.

On land, the trail leads to Kirsten Longacre (Leslie Rose) in the camp of the nuclear opponents.

(Foto: World Productions/BBC/Arte)

With viewership in the double-digit million range, the most successful BBC drama in recent years and from Guardian voted one of the best series of 2021, struck Vigil in the UK one like a cruise missile, at least a small one. Because the scandals of the series – disappeared fishermen, dead sailors, sailors on drugs – are, it is hard to believe, unfortunately not all made up: In 1990 the trawler sank Antares, because his network off Scotland with the nuclear submarine HMS Trenchant verhedderte. In 2017, nine seamen were discharged from the Navybecause they tested positive for cocaine. And now the real submarine base is Faslane determined for a death. One wonders what kind of guys they are, streaking through the oceans with a full load of ready-to-launch nuclear missiles. Some Navy members like retired Commander Rob Forysth in the journal Warships, commented on the authenticity of the series, which of course was immediately questioned. Forysth finds the officers’ behavior unrealistic and the boat far too spacious. But the thing with the drugs, the murders, the fishing boat and also the near-missed collisions with freighters, the affairs between crew members and the failed nuclear reactor – it all really happened before.

But screenwriter Tom Edge may not want to dive that deep into the scandals of the British Navy. In an accompanying text to the series, he emphasizes almost in the propaganda tone what a heroic act it is to work on such a submarine. Nevertheless, political motives have been suspected behind the series in Great Britain: Vigil intended to undermine public approval for the Trident program. After all, demonstrations against nuclear submarines have been taking place for decades, especially in Scotland. The series was also negatively influenced by the submarine expert Feargal Dalton, who was brought in. Because his wife, the politician Carol Monaghan, sit down since the missile system malfunctioned on one of the Trident submarines for an investigation into the program.

Regardless of whether the series is politically motivated, which is rather unlikely, and apart from the apparently sometimes serious grievances in the Royal Navy, which it draws attention to, it should definitely be mentioned that Vigil is an excellent thriller series in every respect. Unlike the Reprint of “Das Boot” 2018 the change between the scenes on land and those under water works, if only because the police officers’ investigations, which are running in parallel, are very unusually intertwined because of the difficult communication between the two. Acting, equipment and setup are consistently top-notch. Knowing that the crimes on the show really happened like that makes you know Vigil even more exciting and gives the whole thing an almost documentary touch. Only the very strong Scottish accent of many characters in the English original demands a lot from non-native speakers. Sometimes it is precisely the restrictions that make the decisive difference.

Vigil, six episodes in the Arte media library and on January 13 and 20, 9:50 p.m. on Arte.


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