Vigil series two: Suranne Jones lifts the lid on the return of the BBC drama

Set in Scotland, this time round the danger comes from the sky

If you thought 2021’s TV series Vigil, the Emmy award-winning BBC One drama starring Suranne Jones and set on a Scottish nuclear submarine was tense, wait till you see the adrenaline fuelled follow up as the second series launches tomorrow.

Returning to her role as DCI Amy Silva, Jones has to buckle up once more as she’s called in by the Ministry of Defence to lead another hush-hush investigation in the six-part series created by Tom Edge and made by World Productions, an ITV Studios company, for the BBC.

Rejoining her as work/life partner is Rose Leslie as Kirsten Longacre and Gary Lewis as her boss, DSU Robertson, alongside new cast members including BAFTA winners Dougray Scott (Crime) and Amir El-Masry (Limbo), and Romola Garai.

Suranne Jones as DCI Amy Silva in Vigil 2, filmed in Scotland and Morocco. Pic: World Productions LTD/Mark MainzSuranne Jones as DCI Amy Silva in Vigil 2, filmed in Scotland and Morocco. Pic: World Productions LTD/Mark Mainz
Suranne Jones as DCI Amy Silva in Vigil 2, filmed in Scotland and Morocco. Pic: World Productions LTD/Mark Mainz

This time round it’s all eyes on the sky as we enter the world of drone warfare as Silva and Longacre come into conflict with the air force and security services as they investigate multiple deaths during a weapons test at a Scottish military base. This season proves no less exciting but like her detective alter ego, Jones is delighted there were no submarines or dangling from helicopters over the sea involved.

As she joins me on Zoom, away from her London base at her holiday bolthole at the seaside, I ask if it was a relief that Vigil 2 wasn’t about submarines?

“Yes. A resounding yes. Vigil1 was filmed at the studios in Dumbarton, not on a submarine, but there was a lot of anxiety about filming in such a closed space. This one is all me out in the world with a lot of it filmed in Morocco, and meeting multiple characters.

“Everyone stops me in the street and says ‘is there going to be a submarine?’ but it’s so different. Amy had trauma around water and there isn’t that, there are no torpedo tubes or water, but the situation isn’t what you think it is; it’s all air stuff. Amy gets herself into intense danger and has to use her maverick talents. Also, there are only four return characters from Vigil 1, that’s me, Gary Lewis, Rose Leslie and Orla Russell who plays my daughter Poppy, and it’s their lives put in a different situation.”

Suranne Jones, who stars in the new series of the hit BBC thriller, Vigil. Pic: David Fisher/ShutterstockSuranne Jones, who stars in the new series of the hit BBC thriller, Vigil. Pic: David Fisher/Shutterstock
Suranne Jones, who stars in the new series of the hit BBC thriller, Vigil. Pic: David Fisher/Shutterstock

A well known face from hits like Dr Foster, Gentleman Jack, Maryland (which she also produced) and I am Victoria, through multiple shows such as Scott & Bailey and all the way back to her breakout TV role in Coronation Street, 45-year-old Jones relished the chance to return to the popular series, which attracted over 13 million viewers and was the most watched TV drama since 2018’s Bodyguard.

Far away from issues of national security, all the Bafta award winning Jones is fighting today is the end of a cold as she enjoys some family time after a busy year of filming and working with TeamAkers, the production company she set up six years ago with her writer and producer husband Laurence Akers. As we talk he sorts breakfast for their seven-year-old son and delivers a coffee to Jones as he prepares to take their two sausage dogs out for a walk on the beach.

“We’ve got a little place just at the end of lockdown, kind of coinciding with my father passing, so we’re there and I feel really so grateful we’ve got this and my son has this little getaway that wasn’t something I had when I was younger. It’s in a little place that’s very old-fashioned seaside. When I was young we used to go to Newquay and St Ives and drove down from Manchester with our packed sandwiches in the middle of the night. Seaside-y places just really calm me. I love being by the water. It’s our time.”

Vigil 1 ended with DI Silva wrapping up the investigation into a killing on a sub and setting up home with her equally straight-talking, risk-taking Scottish sidekick, DS Kirsten Longacre, and her daughter Poppy. Jones is sworn to secrecy as regards the plot but gives a hint of what’s to come:

Suranne Jones and Shaun Evans in the first season of Vigil, which is set on a nuclear submarine. Pic: World Productions/BBCSuranne Jones and Shaun Evans in the first season of Vigil, which is set on a nuclear submarine. Pic: World Productions/BBC
Suranne Jones and Shaun Evans in the first season of Vigil, which is set on a nuclear submarine. Pic: World Productions/BBC

“There has been an accident at an air base due to a drone test gone wrong and because it’s on Scottish soil the MOD has deemed there has to be a police investigation. Because Amy did a really thorough investigation and her report on the Vigilante submarine went down well for the MoD, they requested her to investigate. Amy goes, and that causes a bit of a rift between her and Kirsten because of what happened last time - Amy had a trauma with water - but she says it’ll be fine, it’s not a submarine, I’m just going to go in and do my report. But of course we wouldn’t have a series 2 if it all went smoothly.”

“Amy has grown in confidence knowing that she has to put her foot down so I think she is a bit more ballsy at first. She’s going to get the job done, knows she is going to butt up against the military again, this time the air force, and their rules don’t always apply in the same way that her rules do so they have to find a common ground. It’s not water, so she thinks it feels like a safe bet at the beginning, but she doesn’t expect to be going to the Middle East.”

Cue friction with her partner, who is conducting the civilian side of the same investigation, and to add to the mix, is pregnant with their child but showing few signs of slowing down. Coincidentally Rose Leslie, who plays Kirsten, was also pregnant while filming, so there’s an authenticity to the action shots. That really is a pregnant woman running through a wood or lounging on a sofa.

“With Rose being pregnant it was a gift because we were able to write that in,” says Jones, who admits to worrying about her co-star during the filming of the action scenes.

Suranne Jones in the historical drama Gentleman Jack. Pic: PA Media.Suranne Jones in the historical drama Gentleman Jack. Pic: PA Media.
Suranne Jones in the historical drama Gentleman Jack. Pic: PA Media.

“We were ‘are you OK? Do you want to run? Are you sure you’ve got one more take in there?’ And she was ‘yeah, I’m fine, I’m fine’. She’s a real tough cookie. She was pregnant the first time actually, in Vigil 1, so I think that’s our thing,” she jokes. “Whenever I work with Rose she’s going to have to be pregnant. I said ‘god if there’s ever a Vigil 3 are you planning a third, and she was like ‘ahhhhh.’ She’s like a human ball of sunshine because she’s just so sweet and funny and she’s got a great sense of humour. There are some very sweet family scenes and she gave me permission to touch her stomach and it was lovely. We keep in contact on video messages cos she’s got two kids now obviously and I’m running around with family, but we often do very long messages to catch up.”

With Amy and Kirsten happy in their relationship, the tension comes from having a same sex relationship in the workplace, and their own ambitions.

“The difficulty comes from two women who really value their careers and their worth in their jobs butting up against each other. We have one who is pregnant who still wants to be doing all the stuff she does when she’s not pregnant and I think that’s the interesting added formula. We loved playing that because they’re both really strong women and Kirsten is almost stronger now she’s pregnant because she wants to prove herself all the time.”

“The characters are so different, but both want to be seen as strong. Amy is so protective over her partner who is carrying the baby that it’s a little over-protective, but it’s right as well because she is in danger.”

Being a parent herself, does that inform how Jones plays the role of Amy?

“I love to look after anybody,” she says. “When I’ve not got my dogs and my son to look after. I want to look after people on set. I’m always trying to look out for the crew or cast so when there’s a youngster around, because I’m not with my own child, I do that. Orla, who plays Poppy, is growing up now - she was 12 when we did the first one - and I was like, ‘oh I just want to cuddle you’ and I could see she’s like ‘oh god, get off!’.

Suranne Jones with Eve Best in Maryland. Pic: ITV.Suranne Jones with Eve Best in Maryland. Pic: ITV.
Suranne Jones with Eve Best in Maryland. Pic: ITV.

This time round we have Dougray Scott playing a bombastically smug senior Air Force officer with aplomb.

“Yeah, he’s an a***hole. Amy sorts that out for sure.”

“What was Dougray Scott like to work with?

“I love him. I was thrilled about him and Romola [Garai] joining the cast because they are classy actors. When I met Dougray we sat next to each other at the read through and I thought ‘oh I’m going to have fun with you. We’re not going to be afraid to play with each other’. He loves to be experimental I think, Dougray, and I loved working with him. And what a laugh, he’s so funny.”

Along with Rose Leslie, back from Vigil 1 is another Scottish actor, Gary Lewis.

“I call him ‘the nicest man in Scotland’, because he’s so kind, so caring. And he’s so good as well. We spoke to someone in the police force who said their experience was that it’s very difficult to have a same sex relationship in the force, so we thought it would be nice to cultivate something with Gary where he’s supportive and has respect and almost he treats her as an equal. I loved that he wanted to do that, I thought it was great.”

As Jones’ career has progressed she’s moved more into creating and producing, hence the production company she set up with her husband. The 2021 Channel 4 film I Am Victoria came from a story she developed with writer Dominic Savage and this year’s Maryland, which she created with Anne-Marie O'Connor for ITV, is an example of one such project and gave her the chance to create a character for herself.

“I was so desperate to play the underdog because I play such strong characters all the time, so when we were writing Maryland I just said, everyone expected me to be Rosaline, the big sister and I said ‘no, I want to play the younger one, Rebecca. I really enjoyed stepping back and being that person who was kind of trapped rather than the one that’s always kind of front footed.”

The idea for Maryland came from a dream Jones had about two sisters finding a house with people inside commemorating their mother’s death and describing her as someone who they didn’t recognise.

“It could have been to do with the fact that I’d lost my mum most probably and I wrote that idea down and turned it into the sisters being estranged and them finding the house. Anne-Marie worked on it to a place where it became Maryland and while we were making it we said let’s do something that’s so opposite to this, where it’s so big and so wild and the characters are so different, so we’re doing that. I get to play someone that’s really quite odd and mad. I’m really excited about it. This way I get to do the parts I want to do, and work with people that I want to work with, and also push other actors, yeah, and just be the producer with a cup of coffee behind the screens with my cans on.

“With Anne-Marie I’ve found someone I really enjoy working with, and it takes a lot because obviously when you’ve got a company you have to come up with the idea, get it green lit, make it, crew it, be in it, sell it, but I think eventually I’d like to make a show I’m not in. Push other actors and just be the producer with a cup of coffee behind the screens with my cans on,” she laughs.

With TeamAkers she now has ‘six or seven things that are in the pipeline and two of them have just got greenlit’ and will be announced soon.

“One of the projects is a documentary about the history of witches and witchcraft which is very left-field and no-one would probably ever come to me with that idea so that was something me and my husband came up with and he wrote the treatment for and now we’re making it with Ricochet for Channel 4.”

Does it feature the Scottish witch trials at all?

“We do touch on Scotland, we have a brilliant lawyer in Scotland that talked to us about the Scottish witch trials, but it’s about where I’m from in Lancashire, Pendle Hill and then we visit Germany and Salem and I’ll be able to talk about it more soon as well as the other new drama.”

Whatever the new drama is, we can be sure that Jones will be inhabiting her character, in the way she made Anne Lister with her black silk riding habit and Vigil’s Amy Silva’s ear cuff, blunt bob and tattoo her own.

“Wardrobe is really important, shoes and the haircut. I have a perfume sometimes. I had a soundtrack for Doctor Foster and a physicality for Rebecca (Maryland) so I was a little bit stooped and twin toed because it made me immediately feel like I wasn’t good enough. I always have a back story so that I’m really rooted in.”

When people see Jones in the street, which of her characters is it that people mention most? Do they still remember her as Karen McDonald in Coronation Street, the job that launched her TV career?

“A lot of it is Corrie, yeah. I think Karen made such a mark that people still say ‘were you in Corrie?’ and that makes me laugh because it was 25 years ago.

“I had such a good time there and made a lot of friends… Jenny McAlpine, Anthony Cotton, Sally Lindsay, lots of people I’m still really close to. It was formative years and we were thrust into the spotlight.”

The daughter of a brewery engineer and secretary in Greater Manchester - “my mum had two jobs when I was younger, she went out to clean as well at my uncle’s pub so worked day and night, weekends, late nights and I saw all that stuff” - Jones has come a long way from the acting classes she started at 11 at the suggestion of a teacher. Now she likes to give back to young talent, going into schools and working with young actors.

“I like to go in and put the chairs out and they see me doing that, and then talking to them about how I started, how I failed, how I found out that I liked some things but didn’t like working with certain people and they get an overall view.

Because I’m not a star - that’s how we’re portrayed, as stars, and actually I’m a hard worker. Yes, I’m on everyone’s screens and I’m well known and successful in my career, but it’s good to be grounded for an hour in a class with kids to say ‘look, this is it, this is the reality, these are the mistakes I’ve made and this is how I’ve got here, and it’s consistency, it’s hard work and consistency’. That feels good - and I can see it land on their faces as well, it’s like ‘oh god, she gets up at half five, oh jeez, the lines, the travelling…”

Vigil series 2 starts 9pm Sunday 10 December on BBC One and BBC iPlayer, series 1 is available now on BBC iPlayer.