Vigil star Suranne Jones on how filming second lesbian role left her battered and bruised

SURANNE JONES’ latest blockbuster TV role is the toughest of her career – and she has the bruises to prove it.

The Doctor Foster favourite returns to our screens this Sunday in new BBC1 drama Vigil.

She plays Amy Silva, a police detective investigating a sailor’s mysterious death aboard a Royal Navy sub.

And she threw herself in at the deep end when it came to performing her own stunts, in the mould of Hollywood daredevil Tom Cruise.

Suranne — who turns 43 on Friday — said: “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 any more. So I had to do a lot of working out just to build up my strength in order to do those scenes.

“I got whiplash, I put my back out a couple of times and I was covered in bruises. Every time I went home, my husband was like, ‘What the hell have they done to you now?’

“But 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.”


The submarine film set didn’t exactly aid her recovery process, either.

The cramped working and living conditions replicating a submarine’s interior hardly suited the 5ft 7in actress.


Suranne said: “It was claustrophobic. There’s a great scene where Amy tries to get in her bunk.

“I’m quite tall and not of small build, and the director was like, ‘Can you get up there a little more gracefully?’ But I just couldn’t do it, because they’re so small.”

The series is written by Tom Edge and created by World Productions, the team behind Line Of Duty — and the award- winning cop drama’s very own DI Steve Arnott himself, Martin Compston, is also in Vigil, as Chief Petty Officer Craig Burke.

But this time Martin, 37, is using his genuine Scottish accent, not the estuary tones associated with Arnott.

Also starring in Vigil is Rose Leslie, who played maid Gwen in Downton Abbey and is married to Game Of Thrones hunk Kit Harington.

She plays Suranne’s co-investigator — and lesbian lover — Kirsten Longacre.

While Suranne’s DCI Silva leads the investigation at sea, DS Longacre carries out her duties on land. Their complex relationship is explored over the six-episode series.

As the death of the sailor occurred on active patrol inside British territorial waters, the incident has become a police matter and Suranne’s character is taken by helicopter over the seas off Scotland to the submarine to carry out an investigation.

Navy protocol prevents the two investigators communicating openly, so DCI Silva asks DS Longacre to conceal messages about elements of her land investigation that may impact her underwater findings.

And their communication grows increasingly vital as DCI Silva finds herself aboard HMS Vigil for longer than she anticipated, which is a tough test for her long-held troubles with claustrophobia.

It is the second notable lesbian role of Suranne’s career. She has played Anne Lister, the 19th-century landowner dubbed “the first modern lesbian” in another hit BBC1 drama, Gentleman Jack.

She says having two female lead characters in Vigil, given its masculine backdrop, is ground-breaking.


Suranne said: “What the team have tried to do is really modern, because we’ve got a real old-fashioned boysy thriller in that 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.”

DS Longacre is the first woman Suranne’s character Amy has ever fallen for, and they met during a turbulent time for Amy when her colleague’s presence breathed new energy into her life.

After Suranne landed the part, she spoke to women who had been through similar experiences.

She said: “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 others 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.

“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.”

Another apspect of her character’s mindset that Suranne had no need to research were the problems surrounding her mental health.

DCI Silva has previous issues with anxiety and depression — two conditions Suranne has publicly spoken about.

She said: “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.

“At the start of the series we follow her on to the submarine. At this point (writer) Tom Edge does something really clever, in that Amy is trapped under the water and 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 was only this month, in an interview on Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place podcast, that Surranne revealed she is back on medication to cope, following the loss of her father to Covid in January.

The bereavement came five years after the death of her mother, who suffered with dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Suranne — who found fame as Karen McDonald in Coronation Street between 2000 and 2004 — believes showcasing mental health struggles via a character on a prime-time TV series will help others.

She said: “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 we are covering it in the way that we are, and putting it into a mainstream show that covers it within entertainment.

“Things talk to an audience when they are being entertained. That’s the best way we get interested in stuff.

“Think how many times you have watched a show and been on Google looking up subjects that are covered. Sometimes we discount it as, ‘It’s just a TV show’. But it’s a really important way of educating people.”

  • Vigil starts on BBC1 and BBC iPlayer at 9pm on Sunday, with episode two at 9pm on Bank Holiday Monday, August 30. Vigil will then continue each Sunday night, with new episodes premiering weekly on BBC1 and BBC iPlayer.

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