How accurate is Vigil? Real-life inspirations behind the BBC thriller

Writer Tom Edge talks to RadioTimes.com about some of the research he carried out when writing the new drama.

Vigil

After just two episodes, brand new BBC One thriller Vigil has already cemented itself as a must-watch piece of telly – with the submarine set-drama proving to be a wonderfully tense and claustrophobic experience.

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But some viewers might be wondering just how accurate the series is: does the life depicted in the show really resemble what it’s like for crew mates onboard a nuclear submarine?

Well, while the series is not based on a true story, that doesn’t mean series writer Tom Edge didn’t spend a lot of time looking into the recent history of the nuclear deterrent programme and the nature of life onboard a submarine, with the writer explaining that he wanted to make the series as accurate as possible.

“I mean, I didn’t know a great deal about the deterrents or its history so I came to it pretty fresh.” he exclusively told RadioTimes.com. “George Aza-Selinger at World Productions in Scotland sent me a lot of kind of taster articles culled from the last 10 years of reporting.

“And there was an interesting thing with a whistleblower who had served on a Vanguard-class submarine and had published, breaking the Official Secrets Act, a long screed about various kinds of problems and security issues and mechanical failures, which gave us an interesting insight into at least one take on the complexity and the human stories that lie behind what can seem like a real behemoth.”

“It’s obviously a programme that is largely cloaked in secrecy with huge amounts of money spent on it so it can feel distant and remote,” he added of the nuclear deterrents programme. “So some of that research began to break it open. But it wasn’t really until we started talking to people who have served on Vanguard-class submarines that the inside track of the experience of serving on these boats really opened out.

“And then after that, it was really like a two-way, constant dialogue. As we began to develop the stories that we thought best served the narrative, we would go and find people who could give us even more detail on that. And then what we found there would reshape the narrative. So there was a long, long period where research and dramatic intention constantly informed each other. So that was true all the way through to production.”

Meanwhile, star Shaun Evans, who plays the boat’s coxswain Elliot Glover, explained that he personally spoke to some submariners in the process of preparing for the role.

“I did go over and meet some lads in Liverpool actually,” he explained at a BFI and Radio Times Television Festival panel. “[I met] some submariners and coxswains and spent the afternoon with them, just to see what it was like to chat to them about the specifics of the job but also really to see what kind of personalities they were, what kind of personality would be required to be that sort of bridge between the two.

“And I was just thinking about like, imagine being away from your family and friends for 90 days and all those things that Tom said about if some catastrophe happened at home you wouldn’t find out until you were about to leave, I mean all those things – that’s wild isn’t it?

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“But then also we had a couple of days prior to us filming where myself and everyone else in the submarine had an expert with us most of the time to say, ‘Oh, you wouldn’t stand there, you’d stand there,’ and give us advice about what we would do.”

Vigil continues on BBC One on Sunday 5th September at 9pm. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide or visit our Drama hub for the latest news.