Shane Meadows is one of the more interesting filmmakers of the British newer generation who presented himself at the beginning of the century with films such as “Dead Man’s Shoes” and “This is England”. He is an author who was equally influenced by classic British kitchen sink realism, as well as the work of Martin Scorsese. He mainly deals with the problems of marginalized, bitter Britons, and in this exceptional series, the main protagonist will go from Sheffield to his native Ireland. We meet Joseph (the excellent Stephen Graham) as a fragile alcoholic, tortured construction worker full of rage. He seems like a typical English loser, a wretched wretch whose cards have been shuffled in the worst possible way, and it seems that he is largely to blame for that.
And it seems at first that this four-part mini-series could be a classic character study about a traumatized guy, but after a while it becomes clear that the story is much, much darker. When Joseph’s son moves to Australia with his mother and her new partner, it will plunge him into a terrible crisis. He will return to alcohol, which he avoided for a good two years, and as the only solution to deal with the demons of the past, he will find a return to Ireland, from which he escaped as a boy more than 30 years ago. He never returned to Ireland and completely lost contact with his sister Anna (Helen Behan), who doesn’t even know if Joseph is alive or not.
Through flashbacks, and these segments look as if they were recorded by some home camera from the eighties, we will occasionally get a glimpse of Joseph’s childhood. Over time, things will slowly fall into place and it will soon become clear to us that “Virtues” is actually a shocking, difficult, emotional and even shocking, but extremely structured and touching drama about dealing with the past. Joseph will have to go back in time and face what happened to him in his childhood in a home for neglected children. But when Joseph suddenly appears on the doorstep of his sister, who will hardly recognize him, we will understand that he is not the only one who has to face the past and the traumas that consume him. Almost at the same time that Joseph looks for a place on his sister’s couch, his sister Dinah (Niamh Algar) will also appear in the house where Anna’s three sons and her husband Michael (Frank Laverty) live.
Dinah is an angry and aggressive and extremely problematic girl who tries to hide her fragility and trauma that she herself experienced and with which she has never come to terms. When such two characters find themselves together, very quickly they will recognize in each other something very similar to what they hide in themselves and they will lead each other to the point that this trauma and everything suppressed for years simply has to explode. And in what way, the last, fourth episode of this extraordinary series is a real blow to all the senses, a shock to the body and absolute perfection with which Meadows has once again shown that he is great at dealing with such difficult and sensitive topics.
I would not like to reveal what happened in the earlier stages of Joseph and Dina’s life because these are also certain surprises that “The Virtues” carries. Everything here seems so real, sincere, not at all forced and artificial, but intense, brutal and cathartic. It is a series that is well-rounded and in which Meadows, in a manner of excellent humanism, depicts the lives of people who have experienced trauma in childhood and youth, and this is very familiar to him because he himself was abused as a nine-year-old boy, and this also inspired him to create this fantastic series. Although at first it may seem that the pace of this series is a bit slow and that it practically leads nowhere, patience in this case pays off and by the end everything falls into place and literally leaves the viewer speechless. The cast is also excellent, and the excellent British character actor Stephen Graham, who we know from his episodic roles and in numerous famous American films and series, has achieved perhaps the role of his life here.