The Virtues

Joseph falls into despair when his nine-year-old son Shea leaves for Australia with his ex Debbie. Sufffering the hangover from hell, he walks away from his present life and boards a boat bound for Ireland to confront memories from his childhood.

Created By: Shane Meadows | Jack Thorne |
Genres: Drama |
Production Company:

The Virtues-Azwaad Movie Database
  • Release Date: 15-05-2019
  • Total Sessions: 1
  • Total Episodes: 4
  • Vote Count: 6
  • IMDB Rating: 7.2
  • Network: Channel 4 |
  • Status: Ended
  • Homepage:

Photo Name Character
Stephen Graham-Azwaad Movie Database Stephen Graham Joseph
Niamh Algar-Azwaad Movie Database Niamh Algar Dinah
Helen Behan-Azwaad Movie Database Helen Behan Anna
Frank Laverty-Azwaad Movie Database Frank Laverty Michael
Mark O'Halloran-Azwaad Movie Database Mark O'Halloran Craigy
Deirdre Donnelly-Azwaad Movie Database Deirdre Donnelly Susan
James Nelson-Joyce-Azwaad Movie Database James Nelson-Joyce Ryan
Liam Carney-Azwaad Movie Database Liam Carney Damon (Nomad)
Niamh Cusack-Azwaad Movie Database Niamh Cusack Janine
Juliet Ellis-Azwaad Movie Database Juliet Ellis Debbie

See Full Cast & Crew of The Virtues

Stephen Campbell

**_Starts slow, but really picks up, with the last 20 minutes a masterclass in how to build tension with simple parallel editing; be warned though, it's not pleasant viewing_** > _A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can't predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before._ - Raymond Chandler; _The Long Goodbye_ (1953) > _Violators cannot live with the truth: survivors cannot live without it._ - Chrystine Oksana; _Safe Passage to Healing: A G__uide for Survivors of Ritual Abuse_ (1994) I've been a fan of Shane Meadows, co-writer and director of _The Virtues_, for a long time. Whilst most people would probably cite _This is England_ (2006) and its three spin-off TV miniseries, _This is England '86_ (2010), _This is England '88_ (2011), and _This is England '90_ (2015) as their introduction, I've been a fan since his second film, _Twenty Four Seven_ (1997). But it was his third film, _A Room For Romeo Brass_ (1999) that really caught my eye. A fascinating spin on the "have-a-go hero" genre, the film featured an extraordinary performance by Paddy Considine, who also starred in Meadows's best film thus far, _Dead Man's Shoes_ (2004). Fast forward to the _This is England_ franchise, and undeniably the most fascinating and unexpected character arc is that of Andrew 'Combo' Gascoigne played by one of the finest actors alive today, Stephen Graham. Introduced as an irredeemable racist, a proud member of the National Front, by the end of _This is England '90_, he had become the most sympathetic and heroic character on the show, thanks in no small part to Graham's transformative performance. And much as _A Room For Romeo Brass_ was a breakout for Considine, so too was _This is England_ for Graham, and much as he once again worked with Considine, with incredible results, so too has Meadows once again worked with Graham, resulting in a performance that may very well be the best on his already hugely impressive CV. But be warned. This is some dark material. Like really dark. Like _This is England_ without the humour dark. _The Virtues_ tells the story of Joe (Graham), a painter and decorator in Liverpool who just about manages to scrape himself through the day. As we meet him, he's having dinner with his son Shea (Shea Michael-Shaw), Shea's mother Debbie (Juliet Ellis), and her partner, David (Vauxhall Jermaine). A farewell meal, the trio are moving to Australia to start a new life, and although they have promised Joe he's welcome to visit, he's having a hard time coping. Tearfully telling Shea that it's okay if he wants to call David "dad", Joe says his goodbyes, promising Debbie he'll be okay and that he won't start drinking. And it soon becomes apparent why she's concerned, as he's a recovering alcoholic who turns into a completely different person when he's drunk. Going on an almighty bender where he quickly becomes the life and soul of the party, buying drinks for a pub full of people he doesn't know and doing coke in the bathroom, before wandering the town in search of a kebab (more of which ends up on his face than in his mouth), he awakens in his dingy bedsit the next morning covered in vomit and with virtually no memory of the night before. And, as you do in such situations, he impulsively takes a ferry to Belfast. Walking across the border into Louth, he arrives at the house of Anna (Helen Behan; exceptional) and her husband Michael (Frank Laverty). Dishevelled and vaguely threatening, although he insists she knows him, she's adamant she doesn't, and just as Michael looks as if he's about to get physical, Anna suddenly recognises Joe as the brother whom she thought dead for the last thirty years. To reveal too much else about the plot would constitute a spoiler, but a few important characters are introduced in the second episode, who will come to have a vital role in the ensuing story, namely Dinah (my future wife Niamh Algar, in what will hopefully be a breakout role), Michael's tough-as-old-boots sister, and Craigy (an almost unbearably heart-breaking Mark O'Halloran), one of Michael's employees. As Joe sets about re-establishing links with Anna, we are slowly filled in on why they were separated, why she thought he was dead, and why he is so mentally fragile. At the same time, we learn that just as he is haunted by a trauma from his past so too is Dinah; and although her demons are of a different nature, they are no less emotionally crippling. Cheerful stuff am I right? Written by Meadows and Jack Thorne, _The Virtues_ is loosely inspired by an incident from Meadows's own childhood (to say too much about this would be a spoiler, as this element of the story doesn't really come into focus until the third episode, and isn't fully explained until the finale. He has, however, done a fascinating and extensive interview with _The Guardian_ if you want to know more). As with everything Meadows does, the show is exceptionally well made and effortlessly naturalistic, almost documentarian (like much of his work, although the dialogue isn't exactly improvised, the actors were given considerable latitude to ad-lib). The _milieu_ of his _This is England_ franchise is a brutal place of violence, racism, and rape, a place controlled by hyper-masculine types, the kind of men who believe the term "toxic masculinity" is an oxymoron (or they would if they knew what an oxymoron was). _The Virtues_ isn't set in entirely the same thematic universe (the female characters are far less passive, the male characters aren't afraid of showing their emotions), but the bleakness is the same; both worlds are occupied by broken people, the only difference is that in _The Virtues_, they know they're broken. Aesthetically, _The Virtues_ is impressive without being showy. Bringing his usual sense of _cinéma vérité_, Meadows does allow himself a couple of flourishes, although they are always justified by the narrative. For example, for Joe's drunken quest for a kebab in the first episode, Meadows uses a fish-eye lens attached to Stephen Graham's chest. This creates the sense of a distorted world, without the character ever leaving the frame (or indeed, the very centre of the frame, as the world seems to literally pivot around him). Even the aural design of this scene is different from that of the surrounding scenes, tying us tightly to Joe's compromised perceptions. Another good example is that throughout the first two episodes, Meadows intercuts what seem to be old home movies shot on VHS, before revealing in the third episode that we're actually seeing something quite different, forcing us to reappraise the footage from the first two episodes. Structurally, the show is quite unusual. The first episode features next to no plot, serving only to introduce us to Joe. The second episode doesn't feature a huge amount of plot either, instead focusing on introducing Anna, Michael, Dinah, and Craigy. It's only in the third episode that a recognisable plot with forward-momentum starts to emerge. As unusual a structure as this is, it works well because of the acting, and because it allows Meadows to focus on conveying Joe's repressed pain without the need to worry about narrative beats - we know something is seriously wrong with Joe, and we know it will come to the forefront, so the fact that the show is in no hurry to get there is of no great concern. However, the _pièce de résistance_ from an aesthetic point of view is definitely the last 20 minutes of the final episode. To explain what's happening would be to spoil things, but essentially, it's a masterclass in how to create tension with very simple parallel editing, as Meadows cuts between two similar but geographically distant events, each of which inform and comment upon the other. Thanks to the time he has taken to really set up the characters, this final sequence is insanely powerful, nullifying any perceived drag in the first two episodes. Sure, the change in pace could be argued to veer into thriller territory (there's even a third race-against-the-clock scene, and a voiceover of one character desperately trying to get another to answer their phone), whilst the parallel editing could be seen as a concession to artifice not found anywhere else in the show, but really, the transition from the documentarian to this more obviously directorially manipulated section is so organic as for the whole thing to work beautifully. In weaker hands, this shift could easily have destroyed the integrity of the piece, but Meadows turns it into one of the most intense passages you'll see all year, not just in TV, but in all filmed drama. It really is that powerful. Thematically, the opening scenes of the first episode establish Joe as weary and exhausted as he slumps in a van returning home from work. We don't know anything about him yet, but it's immediately apparent that all is not right with his character, that there's a dead weight. Indeed, emotional weight is one of the show's main themes; not just Joe's but so too Anna's, Dinah's, and Craigy's – all are haunted in one way or another, all are seeking redemption, and if they can't find it, then they seek to escape. For Joe, that involves alcohol; for Dinah, it's violence and hooking up with questionable men. Joe doesn't know why he is so mentally scarred, he just knows that he is, that he is corroding from the inside, and that pain is about the only thing he feels anymore (except when drunk). Speaking of Joe's drinking, the first episode scene in which he visits a pub is exceptionally well put together, realistically showing us an alcoholic deeply at war with himself. Initially ordering a soft drink, he hesitatingly then orders a beer, makes several attempts to drink, before taking a sip, grimacing, then another, and finally a gulp, giving himself over to the alcohol. All of this is done with virtually no dialogue. What follows is a series of vignettes each set about 15 minutes apart, charting Joe loosening up, ordering more pints, then pints and chasers, then speaking to anyone and everyone in the bar - the sullen loner becoming the life and soul, his mood lubricated by the double vodkas he's downing like water. Organising sing-alongs, introducing people he's only just met himself to one another, slowly but surely, he starts to become narky, and then outright belligerent. However, by the time he's expelled from the bar, he's simply a mess, falling down drunk, fighting an invisible enemy in the street. It's an extraordinary sequence, with a tour de force performance from Graham, and perfectly modulated rhythm from Meadows and editor Matthew Gray. Of course, the acting is immense throughout the show. Graham is all repressed pain and stiff upper lip; Algar is the opposite, wearing everything on her shelve and prone to violent outbursts; Behan (a part-time nurse who gave her phone number to Meadows in a pub one night before he cast her in _This is England '88_) is all guilt and remorse; and O'Halloran's soft-spoken Craigy is pain personified, looking for someone, anyone, to help him lighten the burden of living. Each in their own way is broken, but each manifests it in an entirely different manner. Each performance is so naturalistic that, coupled with Meadows's fly-on-the-wall directorial style and Nick Gillespie's unfussy cinematography, the sense of documentarian intimacy and realism is unmissable. A scene when Joe and Anna get reacquainted is especially brilliant, with its false starts, overlapping sentences, phrasal repetitions, and thematic circling; the kind of things you often find in emotionally traumatic real-life conversations, but rarely see done well on screen. A simple scene shot in a master and two close-ups, the nearly nine-minute sequence is as awkward as it is heart-breaking, and is followed by an equally awkward, although slightly funnier scene in which Anna and Michael try to explain to their children why they thought Joe was dead. On paper, Dinah runs the risk of becoming a clichéd feisty Irish lass. But in the hands of Algar, she's someone whose pain is no less pronounced than Joe's, someone whose behaviour is based wholly on her mental instability. Liam Carney also gives a terrific performance as Damon, a pivotal one-scene role, deeply pathetic but exuding menace and unrepentant sadism, as does Aisling Glenholmes as Apphia, Michael and Dinah's mother, all prime, moralistic, condescending religiosity; the worst type of Irish Catholic. Both are loathsome, but both are portrayed brilliantly. _The Virtues_ is an exceptional piece of work by an exceptional filmmaker. Undeniably bleak, it will undoubtedly be too much for some. However, this is not misery porn, not even close. In Meadows, misery is never gratuitous, because he never loses sight of a sense of catharsis, which is so vital for work of this nature. It starts exceptionally slowly, with little plot in either of the first two episodes, but the astonishing central performances carry it, and it reaches a crescendo of unprecedented power in its final episode. Disturbing, harrowing, bleak, but extremely impressive.

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