We were invited to the world premiere of The Rig – Amazon Prime’s new tv show set in the North Sea. We’ve tried to keep the following spoiler-free as possible but proceed at your own risk.
It might be a supernatural thriller, but the DNA of the North Sea industry is there if you’re looking for it in Amazon Prime’s “The Rig”
Complaints about rotas, which the first episode opens on, will be pretty familiar to the offshore workforce; there’s a canteen and games area which I would describe as “Shearwater-esque” and a sorry-looking radio room which you could find on any number of ageing installations.
And yes, there’s some pretty lax safety and PPE standards, which eagle-eyed workers viewing the trailer have already caught on to (with outrage).
Any safety reps seeing Emily Hampshire’s character heading to the drill floor in a rush during episode one, without anything more than a shirt and trousers, will roll their eyes – and there is a “you’ve got to put on your kit!” shouted.
Less familiar will be the supernatural fog and frights that follow.
But once that happens, the crew of the Kinloch Bravo have some discussion of commercial concerns versus safety, which do feel close to the bone.
Everyone involved in North Sea HSE will be familiar with the events of Piper Alpha – the worst ever offshore disaster when 167 lives were lost – off Aberdeen on July 6, 1988.
Commercial pressure there, where workers on nearby fields feeding into Piper A didn’t feel empowered to shut down production without company permission, had horrific consequences which exacerbated the inferno.
Survivors have not been ambiguous about who is to blame for these failings; Occidental Petroleum, the US-based operator of Piper at the time.
Which leads us to our parallel with The Rig…
Emily Hampshire’s “Rose Mason” is the company woman for the fictional Pictor Energy, with characters alluding to her climbing the career ladder and concerns she might leave them behind if the company makes layoffs.
So when the proverbial hits the fan, early in the episode, threatening the oilfield, Offshore Installation Manager (OIM) Magnus MacMillan (Iain Glen) moves to shut down production, but Rose fights against it, with concern only for meeting company targets.
Commercial pressures impacting safety is a familiar phrase from North Sea unions, and HSE managers watching The Rig will likely view that as the most egregious behaviour from Mason, which would not be tolerated.
She even goes so far, later, as to remind MacMillan that he is not her boss – true, but an OIM is, for all intents and purposes, the king, the captain of the ship, the judge and jury, when it comes to matters on their platform.
What these exchanges show is a solid understanding of the background and pressures in the oil and gas industry from writer David MacPherson, who has drawn heavily upon his own father’s 30 years working in the industry in his script.
Finding a balance
After the Premiere on Tuesday, the cast and filmmakers had a Q&A in which Iain Glen revealed he worked closely with a former OIM on his lines to make sure the authenticity is felt in the show.
And, although the supernatural element will of course start to take hold, these seem promising signs for a show which I was concerned would seek to (quite literally) demonise the men and women working hard to secure supply of energy for the UK – which mainstream media, and even journalists, so often fail to grasp or appreciate.
Early in the episode there is of course a news reel with climate protestors and “subsidising” fossil fuels, and the trailer itself has about three separate mentions of a battle being fought with nature.
But MacPherson’s Q&A showed appreciation for the industry, noting how society “owes” it to those working offshore to get the jobs transition to renewable energy right – a key issue for the sector in 2022.
He also told the audience he wants inject some nuance, bringing multiple perspectives into his work which centres on the energy industry.
A good start-up, let’s see if those ambitions hold through the life of The Rig.
The Rig airs on Amazon Prime on January 6.
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