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The Virtues, Episode 4, Channel 4 review - a bitter redemption | reviews, news & interviews

The Virtues, Episode 4, Channel 4 review - a bitter redemption

The Virtues, Episode 4, Channel 4 review - a bitter redemption

Gripping climax to Shane Meadows' harrowing series

Decades of sorrow: Joseph young and old

Shane Meadows has said that he always wanted to make a film where people didn’t talk. It’s homage to the European cinema he loves, with its preference for atmosphere over action, ambiguity over resolution, but it is also a way to confront an experience that lay dormant within his own life for too long. That is the trauma of the sexual abuse survivor, who is locked in silence and trapped by what cannot be said. If there were periods in The Virtues (Channel 4) that ambled along too slowly, or were simply too unbearable to watch, Meadows has achieved a redeeming climax in this final episode.

After having returned to the site of his childhood trauma, Joseph (Stephen Graham) is ready to confront the past that has kept him speechless and turning to alcohol across the three previous episodes. But a quiet beer with Craigy (Mark O’Halloran) spirals into another night of drunken mayhem. In the aftermath, a moment of intimacy with Dinah (Niamh Algar, her best performance) leads to a paralysing panic attack for Joseph – a frightening scene in which Meadows splices together chilling home footage of Joseph’s attackers – who ends up in hospital. His recovery is a catalyst. Joseph is able to come to terms with what has happened to him, and is willing to find the perpetrators. The scene that follows, a confessional with his sister (Helen Behan) is devastating, and another masterful example of the suggestive power of Stephen Graham.Dinah also confronts the past that has haunted her for ten years: the son that she gave away to adoption at birth and has never met. Dinah discovers that her boy sent her letters, but the letters were stolen by Dinah’s mother, who burned them and kept it all a secret. As with Joseph, Dinah is on the same excavating mission: to challenge the unsaid and to murder the crippling, evil silence.

The climax is gripping, with Meadows taking a risk in choosing to cut back and forth between the two final confrontations - Dinah and her mother, Joseph and his attacker - as they progress independently. It succeeds in building a cumulative tension, in part due to the powerful use of PJ Harvey’s bruising score. As the separate scenes interchange and intensify, the droning swell builds and builds – like the hot wave of oncoming panic – in a damning surge.

Are we left with ambiguity or resolution (or does interpretation fail us here)? What are we finally to feel about Joseph? The end will continue to haunt me, because Meadows, following his European forebears, chooses silence: the final shot, a direct mirror of the very first, shows Joseph staring blankly out of the window of a car. But if the emotional pain of trauma can never be forgotten, solace can still be found through its recognition. This is how I felt about that final kiss, an inverted death warrant: rather than absolving his attacker by killing him, Joseph punishes him by committing him to the burden of his life. It is a single dab imbued with self-willed empowerment, as though decades of sorrow were cast off, finally, and transferred from one person to another.

If trauma can never be forgotten, solace can be found through its recognition


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Excellent review.."Joseph punishes him (his perpetrator) by committing him to the burden of his life"......'with self-willed empowerment, as though decades of sorrow were cast off, finally, and transferred from one person to another." Wow! I SO MUCH WANT TO SEE THIS HAPPEN FOR ALL SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL ABUSE

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