All my work tends to have come from a fairly personal place, but I think The Virtues is the rawest nerve.
New Channel 4 series The Virtues, directed and co-written – with Jack Thorne – by Shane Meadows is packed with pain, sadness, despair and shame but through it all there is hope. Hope and heart. And a rich vein of humour that sweetens what is perhaps the most affecting story Meadows has told to date.
No other filmmaker can do this so effectively.
It is not just the extreme realism Meadows captures or career-best performances from his actors (recent Big Issue cover star Stephen Graham produces a star turn to match his life-changing role in This Is England here), it is the celebration and compassion for people’s personal struggles.
The Virtues centres on Joseph, and will touch on issues including repressed memory syndrome – whereby a child suffers trauma so powerful that their brain can block it out, only for it to resurface either much later in life. Meadows spoke about this in relation to his own life in a recent interview with The Observer.
Talking to The Big Issue, Meadows was keen to point out that the way in which the central character in The Virtues is able to just about hold his life together constitutes, in the circumstances of Joseph’s history, a triumph.
“We are living in a time at the moment when people are looking down on people on a grand scale,” said Meadows.
“People are judging people from their ivory towers – the judgement of people, maybe people with addictions but if you chat to people in that position and hear about their life? My god, some of the things I have heard. I wouldn’t even be alive if I’d been through what they have been through.
“So The Virtues is allowing us to look inside some fairly broken people who have been damaged over the course of time and allowing you to see how incredibly well they are doing under the circumstances.
“In the grand scheme of things, they might not look like they are doing so well but they might be leading an incredibly virtuous life by their own standards. It is making a hero out of someone who is an alcoholic and has probably caused damage but when you get all the information, you realise how incredibly well they are doing under the circumstances. And it is never too late to change.
“It has all the trademarks of my work, I suppose, in terms of laughing your head off one minute and being in deep despair the next,” he added.
Going back to his own childhood trauma, that he pieced together with the help of a psychologist when he was 40, Meadows said: “As it is now, it feels like something that is resolved and is not something I am going to try to avenge.
“I have made my own peace with it. I was able to put it to bed myself in a healthy artistic environment, to make a programme rather than to make a mistake…”
The Virtues airs on Channel 4 on Wednesdays at 9pm
Image: Rory Mulvey for The Big Issue