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The Virtues - Episode 2 - Review

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Two episodes in, The Virtues takes Stephen Graham's Joseph on a trip down memory lane. Having made it to Ireland with the last of his cash and nothing else he now hitchhikes to his family's house and that of his sister Anna, who was separated from him at a young age in an emotional reunion that proves Shane Meadows knows how to hit home and hit hard with effective, powerful stakes. The PJ Harvey score that accompanies The Virtues is brilliant, minimalist and suiting the atmosphere of this show to perfection, which revels in exploring the Irish landscape through montage as we watch Joseph's journey home.

The family dynamics that we find ourselves introduced to in this episode also means that this acts essentially as the second part of the first episode, with the new cast replacing that of the old. We spot similarities to Joseph's past through Anna's young kids, all with blonde hair and all of whom hate peas, and it quickly becomes apparent that this show was never going to take a drastic turn from its hard to watch scenes into something more light hearted. The believable reunion was punctuated by just how much time had passed, he looks like a confused stranger who's harassing his sister's family and it's understandable that Anna's husband Michael won't let Joseph get any closer. It soon becomes clear that although this may be a Stephen Graham star vehicle, the whole cast lend their efforts to the script with authentic-ism that elevates it above its already exceptional standard, with both Helen Behan and Frank Laverty bringing their a-game to the table. That moment of realisation is enough to break Anna and the audience in quick succession, as those flashbacks told through hazy camerawork create a sense of archival footage.

There's plenty of baggage that explore why Joseph never got back in touch that's reinforced by questions from Anna's kids that are predictably probing without a care in the world for boundaries. The kids ask him why he's not dead when Anna said he was, and Anna asks why he never got in touch sooner. As always, the devastating scenes hit and it's almost impossible to pick a single standout scene. Another highlight is when we meet Nimah Algar's Dinah in one of the rare cases of humour that escape from the constant angst - we first meet her character in the middle of a fight, but when Joseph asks whether or not they should intervene watching from above whilst Anna's kids cheer Dinah on from below, it's clear that intervention isn't necessary, she easily takes out the guy and leaves him in the dirt. The wedding - Mike jokes all too-predictably, is off.

The character relationships that Meadows explores here has been one of his biggest strengths as a creator and this episode proves that he's at the top of his game. We see family dynamics introduced with compelling stakes and Anna's family are just interesting enough so that we want to know more about them. It almost feels disappointing that we're already halfway through the series with just two episodes to go, as there's just too much good material that you can't help but want to spend as much time with these real, human characters as much as possible.

Whatever tension happens to come in the next few episodes will likely have something to do with Dinah, she's fiery and has already clashed with Joseph. There's enough depth to her to avoid a cliché, and we feel like we've only scratched the surface with these characters. Furthermore The Virtues never feels like it's exploiting people who live in poverty, treating them with respect and raising important issues. If there was ever a show that you should be watching right now as it airs rather than discovering it later on a streaming service or DVD - it should be The Virtues. These two episodes cement this drama as not just one of the best in British TV but also a contender for best drama of the year - and thanks to powerhouse performances from the entire cast, every bit of praise feels entirely justified.

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