Vigil’s terrifying real-life inspiration – nuclear destruction & trawler tragedy


BBC drama BBC drama came to a nerve-wracking climax on Sunday night, but while it is all fiction there are several plot points which have clearly been influenced by real life events

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Vigil: Mark Prentice is stabbed by Lieutenant Doward

Vigil came to a nerve-wracking climax on Sunday night as the Russian spy was finally exposed.

There was a grisly death, heart-pounding knife chase and a sinking submarine during the dramatic finale, in which Suranne Jones’ charter Amy managed to survive being trapped in a torpedo tube.

The explosive scenes were all fictional, but many plot points in the highly-acclaimed series have seemingly been inspired by terrifying real-life stories – even though the BBC had denied it.

“BBC drama has a rich history of exploring stories in a sensitive and considered way,” said a spokesman for the BBC.

“Though underpinned by extensive research, Vigil is a fictional drama and is not inspired by or based on any specific real-life events.”

However, there was an actual trawler which was sunk by a Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarine, causing the deaths of four fisherman, which is remarkably similar to the events depicted in the opening scene.

Vigil write and creator Tom Edge, who is also know for The Crown, has spoken about where he got the ideas for his submarine-based drama for.

Vigil has been keeping us gripped for weeks


BBC/World Productions)

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Vigil delves into the ethical questions surrounding the use of a nuclear deterrent programme, including the monumental costs and threat from other nations.

This is obviously a nod to the UK’s Trident programme, the purpose of which according to the Ministry of Defence is “deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life, which cannot be done by other means”.

The Trident nuclear deterrent is comprised of four Vanguard class submarines armed with no more than eight missiles and forty warheads.

As is mentioned in the series, at least one sub is always on patrol to provide a continuous at-sea capability, which is why the plan to sabotage HMS Vigil in the show proved to be a major disaster.

“I think over the next 10 years submarine warcraft is going to dominate in a way they haven’t been thought about for a while,” said creator Tom Edge at a press event for the show.

The peace camp in Vigil is inspired by the real-life Faslane peace camp, located next to Faslane Naval base in Scotland, which is where the Trident nuclear programme is based.

There’s obviously a lot of secrecy involved which made it harder for the Vigil makers, but there have been real-life whistleblowers over the years.

HMS Vengeance off the coast of Largs, Scotland


Getty Images)

Tom told Radio Times: “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.”

The team had a constant two-way dialogue with real people involved in submarine warfare and reshaped the narrative based on their findings.

Parallels have been drawn to a real life tragedy which was seemingly mirrored during the opening scene of Vigil.

At the start of the first episode, a Scottish fishing trawler was dragged into the ocean after its nets got snagged on a submarine in horrifying scenes.

In reality, the trawler Antares was sunk by Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarine HMS Trenchant in the Arran Trench off the Isle of Arran in the early hours in November 1990.

In the opening scene a trawler was pulled under water



The Antares was pulled over and sunk in 150m of water – tragically causing four fishermen to lose their lives.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch led an inquiry and reported this chilling statistic: “There have been a series of incidents involving submarines and trawlers over the last few years and prior to this particular incident the recorded number involving allied submarines since 1980 was 15.

“One of these incidents resulted in the foundering of the trawler involved, namely Sheralga (sunk in the Irish Sea) in 1982.”

During Vigil, Martin Compston’s character Craig Burke actually mentions Antares to Commander Newsome while they are investigating what happened.

Although as previously stated, the BBC denies that the tragedy specifically inspired the fictional scenes.

The Vigil production team also managed to replicated the brutal realities of living in an enclosed space and the tensions this causes on a submarine.

They also incorporated things that do happen in reality, such as crew only being able to get one short messages every week.

They managed to create the claustrophobic feeling


BBC/World Productions)

During the series, we saw how secretive they were and how hard it was for Amy to get information to and from her colleagues on land.

“There’s people who do some incredibly hard work in isolating and tense conditions and who have to subsume every other part of them while they do this job in a twilight existence,” said Tom.

“One of the things I found very moving early on in our research was that the people serving on these boats get one message a week from one designated family member of 100 words or less.

“It’s vetted up to seven times by the Navy for any possible codes and they’re never allowed to contain bad news.

“So you go on board knowing that if your partner is killed in an accident or something like that, the first you’ll know of it is an hour before the end of the patrol.

“You’ll be taken aside by the captain and told what has happened in your absence, and that’s all about keeping crews stable and not creating anything stressful. I found that very moving.”

*The whole series of Vigil is available to watch on BBC iPlayer

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