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Marcianne Miller

The Virtues, Irish 4-part TV mini-series

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This often-grim series set in North Ireland is based on incidents in the life of director/co-writer Shane Meadows (This is England TV series). This true-story nature explains its unrelenting no-holds barred realism that many viewers will appreciate. But, warning here, the film is not for everyone.

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The Virtues is a sarcastic title because many of the people in the film own no virtue. However, like grace unasked for, sometimes the worst of human nature is countered with the best--thus evil engenders the few, but definite, virtues in the film. Like real life though, not every hurt in the film receives the balm of forgiveness.

Carrying the thrust of the story is an extraordinary actor who might be new to American audiences. Stephen Graham is well-known in England from his work in the Line of Duty TV series. With his Everyman face and uncluttered acting style, Graham creates a character that starts painfully ordinary, then rises to eloquent heroism. The story—alas not a unique one in the obscene history of Irish foster care--haunted me for weeks afterward.

 Liverpool construction worker Joseph (Graham) is devastated when his girlfriend movies to Australia with her boyfriend, and takes their 9-year old son with her. “I’m sorry,” Joseph says to her, words he proclaims many times more throughout the story. He breaks his precious sobriety on a bender that, truthfully, is so repulsive, it’s cringe-worthy. Having lost everything in life, Joseph decides to return to Ireland and face the repressed demons that have plagued him all his life.

He crash lands on the front yard of the sister he hasn’t seen in 30 years. Anna (Helen Behan) is now happily married with three cheerful kids, a fulfilled life that’s in pitiful contrast to the childhood she and Josepha knew. Without warning, their widowed father had separated the two children, allowing Anna to be adopted, but sending Joseph off to a boys home called The Towers. What happened to him there was so horrendous he ran away, which meant most people thought he had died. Now, back home in Ireland, he’s determined to find the source of his nightmares – and seek justice.

Complicating his plans is the growing affection he has for Anne’s fiery sister-in-law, Dinah (Niamh Algar). She has her own demons, focused on her heartless mother. Prominent among the anguishes separately endured by Joseph and others in the story are crucifixes--on a wall or gravestone or hanging from a neck chain--the ever-present symbol of Irish Catholicism and the perverse cruelties enacted in its shadow.

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Film techniques, such as masterful intercutting between the present and the ever-encroaching past, creates tension that an action adventure film would be hard-pressed to match. All the actors give subtle, emotionally satisfying performances. Recurring throughout are the disturbing lyrics by English musician PJ Harvey, “You will remember this…you will see us again.”

Sometimes funny, often painful, honest, violent and unforgettable, The Virtues is one series that a brave person of faith should see.

The Virtues is available to stream on Topic, the new streaming service from First Look Media that presents entertainment from around the world. SeeTopic.com.

 

 

 

 

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