Crime drama Vera returns for its first Christmas special with Holy Island the focus of a murder investigation

Holy Island holds ‘a special place’ in the heart of Vera actress Brenda Blethyn.
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Not only is it the home of DCI Vera Stanhope in the long-running ITV drama, it is also the location for its first Christmas special.

The feature-length episode titled The Rising Tide is based on the tenth novel by bestselling author Ann Cleeves.

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“Vera and her team are gearing up to having a couple days off over Christmas when a call comes in about a television celebrity who has been found dead on Holy Island of all places, where Vera lives, in what is an unexplained death,” explains Brenda.

The Vera cast on Holy Island. Picture: ITVThe Vera cast on Holy Island. Picture: ITV
The Vera cast on Holy Island. Picture: ITV

"So her boss has decided that as Vera knows the area, she can go and deal with it.

“It turns out the dead man is with a group of friends who first visited Holy Island together in 1977 and have been returning for a reunion every five years since 1982. Vera is intrigued by them and finally concludes that the death is a case of murder.”

Viewers have long recognised that a property on Holy Island is used for the exterior shots of Vera’s cottage with the interior filmed back at the studios.

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"I’m not sure if the fact she lives on the island has ever been directly mentioned on screen before,” says Brenda. “I mean, how could she live on an island where the tide comes in twice a day and cuts the residents off? I guess you could call it dramatic license!”

Vera actress Brenda Blethyn. Picture: ITVVera actress Brenda Blethyn. Picture: ITV
Vera actress Brenda Blethyn. Picture: ITV

The group of friends are staying in a cottage called Pilgrim House in the story.

"The art department did an incredible job converting the old lifeboat house on Holy Island into Pilgrim House,” says Brenda. “They made it look like there was an upper floor with dormer windows and transformed the building into a place where the friends stayed.”

She adds: “It was lovely filming on Holy Island. It’s such a special place and everyone is so friendly. But we filmed this in November and December of 2022 and it was very cold.

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"The tide is still in when Vera gets the call about the death so she has to travel on a pilot boat to the island.

Vera filming on Holy Island. Picture: ITVVera filming on Holy Island. Picture: ITV
Vera filming on Holy Island. Picture: ITV

“I was actually out on the boat but I’m not sure you see that in the final edit. There will have been some priceless footage on the boat but they’ve had to cut it for time reasons.

“But you do see Vera walking up the Holy Island harbour steps from the boat with her mac flapping around in a strong wind.

"We couldn’t risk losing Vera’s hat at sea so it was kept firmly in place at all times. The hat was pulled down securely on my head with some elastic pushed inside the hat and then under my chin.

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“So I just pulled the hat down and made sure it didn’t blow off into the North Sea. We couldn’t use hat pins because if the wind is really strong and the hat takes off it is pulling on your hair. Like being scalped! So we used a crafty bit of elastic under the chin.”

The episode is also Kenny Doughty’s final appearance as DS Aiden Healy.

Vera airs at 8pm on Boxing Day and will be available on ITVX.