Stephen Graham stars in Shane Meadows‘ compelling drama for Channel 4 about a man haunted by a past he has tried, for decades, to forget. After slipping off the wagon, Joseph boards a ferry bound for Ireland to confront his buried childhood trauma. Emotionally and physically wrecked, Joseph reunites with his sister, Anna (Helen Behan), who he hasn’t seen since childhood. Joseph’s precarious family reunion is further complicated when he is immediately drawn to Michael’s fiery sister Dinah (Niamh Algar). Angry and lost, Dinah is fiercely guarded, and, like Joseph, haunted by a deeply-held secret.
Exploring themes of violence, abuse, addiction, exploitation and revenge, The Virtues is a hard-hitting but compassionate drama that you will be thinking about long after watching.
A real slow burner, it takes a while to get into as there are many scenes of Graham drinking, burping, and just generally struggling through the day, so it’s difficult to get invested straight away. But you know that the series is building up to a big revelation, and you know that Joseph has buried something that is absolutely going to rip him apart when he finally confronts it.
The methodical approach may deter some from sticking with it, but when it gets into it, The Virtues is incredibly raw and powerful. The final episode, especially, is a brilliant example of writing for TV, bringing so much together in its intense finale.
Stephen Graham and Shane Meadows always work great together, but that’s because Meadows gives Graham such fantastic characters to work with. The Virtues sees Graham reteam with the man that gave him his most iconic role, in an attempt to step it up once again. Their collaboration is always something special, and this mini-series is no different.
There’s no denying that Graham gives it his absolute all. His patience and courage with this kind of character has a lot to show for itself, and he definitely proves himself to be one of Britain’s finest actors.
What finally engaged me into the series was the inclusion of Niamh Algar’s Dinah. Dinah shares Joseph’s grief and need to feel something, and she’s obviously very broken too. As her character started to take more prominence, the story really felt like it was coming together properly.
The final episode sees the two battling their own demons in parallel scenes, dealing with their issues in very different ways. These gripping scenes really make the slow pacing of the start of the series worth it, showing how difficult it is for wounds to heal in this incredibly psychological exploration of trauma.
You can catch up with the series on All 4.