The Raw Edge of Human Vulnerability
Shane Meadows’ The Virtues (2019) is drama at its finest. It revolves around Joseph, played by the always-brilliant Stephen Graham (Snatch (2000), This Is England (2006), The Irishman (2019)) as he struggles to cope with his son moving to Australia with his ex-wife. The audience then gets to witness his downward-spiral and later signs of retribution as the series progresses, revealing further layers of trauma as it goes along.
I’m just going to start off by saying that Shane Meadows is brilliant, and whatever he touches turns into utter gold. His understanding of drama and character-development is some of the best that I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. His stories are an experience and leave a lasting impression upon viewing, and The Virtues is no different. The story is realistic and is further amplified by Meadows’ documentary (or “fly on the wall”) style of direction. Point-of-view shots are also beautifully used in a montage scene depicting Joseph’s bender, as well as rather cinematic opening-shots to episodes that add to the series’ viewing pleasure.
“Retro” footage is used as flashback sequences throughout the series to give Meadows is joined by frequent writing partner Jack Thorne (This Is England ‘86/’88/’90) and together they deliver once again in the writing department. Dialogue is tight and meaningful, and often has you going back to watch its delivery on-screen over and over again. The story is dark, very personal, overwhelmingly raw, and exceptionally heart-breaking at times. Meadows proves once again his ability to handle painful themes and imagery, as the show holds nothing back in its interpretation of abandonment, alcohol/substance abuse, and sexual abuse.
The heart and soul of the series comes from Graham’s tour-de-force performance as Joseph. The audience feels for him throughout his journey of reflecting on his traumatic past, from painful demise to eventual revitalization. He delivers emotionally-captivating scenes throughout the series, with some key moments being with his son, his sister, and when he faces the human embodiment of his trauma. His pain is powerfully expressed and the audience resonates deeply with every moment. This all goes towards exemplifying his understanding of the human condition and life. Humour is also portrayed well by Graham through witty dialogue and one-liners such as “I hope your mother loves you because I fucking don’t”. Graham provides another exemplary performance of his acting range and underrated abilities to disappear into a character.
The show is also solidified by its strong supporting cast and subplots. Dinah, played by Niamh Algar, has an equally compelling story to Joseph’s and is heartbreaking to see unfold. Joseph’s estranged sister Anna (played by Helen Behan) and labourer Craigy (Mark O’Halloran) stand-out as supporting characters that help drive the main plot and Joseph’s character development. Composer PJ Harvey’s score haunts the series as it looms in the background, enhancing various dramatic and emotional scenes. His piece, “The Crowded Cell”, stands out especially as it serves as the show’s theme song played in all four episodes’ credits.
The Virtues (2020) is another Shane Meadows drama masterclass, proving once again his special ability to always leave an audience wanting more. The brilliant 1-2 combination of Meadows and Graham is also proven to be successful as both provide another powerful drama. It makes its North American premiere today and I urge you to give it watch. You will most definitely not regret it.
Rating – 9.5/10
The Virtues hits the streaming service Topic beginning on April 2, 2020