The Virtues

9pm, Channel 4

His name is Joseph, and he has his troubles.

When you reach the end of the opening episode of The Virtues – when you remind yourself to breathe again, and uncurl your fingers from where the nails have embedded themselves into the palms of your hands – this is essentially as much as you will really know about the lead character. And yet, across the hour, the drama is by turns tender and traumatic, harsh and heartbreaking. Simmering constantly near the boil, it’s spellbinding.

When we first meet Joseph (Stephen Graham), he is being driven home after a day’s graft. As his colleagues banter, he gazes out the car window, and when he’s dropped off, sits silently in his lonely flat, looking down on kids playing far below. That evening, he heads out for dinner at the home of a couple and their young son. Loving friends, it seems at first, or perhaps family, until the situation becomes clear: the woman, Debbie (Juliet Ellis), is actually Joseph’s ex-wife, the little boy is his son, and they are all about to move away with her new partner for a new life in Australia, leaving Joseph behind.

As he says goodbye, Debbie asks if he will be okay, and the moment seems loaded with her fear that he will not be. We find out why when Joseph leaves their house and pitches up alone in a corner pub he’s never visited before, and begins to seek oblivion. Soon, as he buys drink after drink, then round after round for strangers, the tension is screaming because it is impossible to tell how this is going to end, which way he will go.

Meanwhile, as his endless, awful night unwinds, fragments start flashing in Joseph’s memory: images and voices from childhood, never quite coming into focus, perhaps because he’s trying, with all these tides of booze, to keep them blotted out and buried. When the brutal next morning arrives, however, it seems he has finally decided to dig them up, because he walks out of his life armed only with an old photograph, headed straight back into his past.

The Virtues was directed by Shane Meadows, and it is a step on from his most famous TV work, the This Is England series, one of whose main contributors, Jack Thorne, is co-writer here. That show was beloved by many, and I was in a minority in feeling that, the longer it went on and the farther it moved away from Meadows’s brilliant source movie, the more forced it seemed, less like meaningful drama, and more like a series of drama workshops.

By contrast, The Virtues feels real, organic, rather than contrived. Even though it is not made explicit in the opening episode, it is not hard to guess at one of its subjects. In a moving but matter-of-fact interview with The Guardian, Meadows explained the story is rooted in his own recent experience of remembering an incident of abuse from childhood.

As the first episode ends, how it will confront this is impossible to say. Meadows once made Dead Man’s Shoes, a fantastic, relentlessly strange revenge thriller that played like Peter Kay doing Get Carter. But The Virtues is far sadder and more bruised.

It takes its pace from the astonishing performance by Stephen Graham, an actor who can do menacing and unsettling in his sleep, but digs deeper here. Whether wounded or wound up, he’s never less than 100 per cent believable: the scenes of Joseph saying goodbye to his son are the most tender you will see this year. In this week’s episode, Graham is practically performing one long solo, and it’s like a kind of music. Speaking of which, the sawing, hypnotic soundtrack by PJ Harvey is beautiful, too, like part of the landscape.



British Academy Television Awards

8pm, BBC One

“Ha-hah, Blousey, I knew you were a wrong’un the minute you joined the series, and here’s the proof, because that wee fella secretly taped your conversation for no reason! And see when Dot said ‘H,’ and then we all started saying ‘H’ for forty years? Well: he didn’t say ‘H.’ It was actually, uhm…Morse Code, yeah, for…eh, ‘G’ or ‘seventeen,’ or ‘potato’ or something – Aaaaaargh! Look out! There’s another bent copper in the corner with a big knife!” We’ll have to wait a year to see how the Academy rewards Jed Mercurio for that magnificent Line Of Duty finale, but he does have a hat in the ring this time, with Bodyguard up again for Most Overrated Drama. Elsewhere, the excellent Killing Eve and A Very English Scandal lead the field for the big gongs.


One Day In Gaza

9pm, BBC Two

On May 14 2018, the Gaza Strip experienced one of its deadliest days of violence in a generation. One year on, director Olly Lambert’s film attempts to piece together why, by nightfall, 60 Palestinians lay dead or dying, with a further 2,000 injured. The background to the violence was Israel’s long running blockade of the territory. But things came to a head with the opening of the new US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, provocatively ordered by Donald Trump. As the US delegation led by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner arrived to inaugurate the new embassy, tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered along the border to protest. Drawing on footage shot at the time, and new interviews with the Israel Defense Forces, Hamas, and civilians on both sides, Lambert explores the complexities on the ground that day, and asks who was to blame.


Years And Years

9pm, BBC One

The title gives an indication of how long it feels like it lasts, but the first episode of Russell T Davies’s new one gets interesting toward the end. The series begins, though, as a blend of regulation tepid BBC family drama and under-baked Black Mirror, as we follow the Lyons family (Rory Kinnear, Anne Reid, T’Nia Miller, Russel Tovey and Ruth Madeley) five years into the future. In this speculative 2024, as the Lyons get on with dating, raising kids and using mobile phones, teenagers are wanting to abandon their bodies for a digital existence, refugees are fleeing persecution in Ukraine, Donald Trump is reaching the end of his second term, and the UK witnesses the rise of a sinister “common-sense” populist politician, Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson). It’s all cute and lumpy, but the final moments switch gear into something more arresting – quickly ruined by horrendous music.


David Harewood: Psychosis And Me

9pm, BBC Two

In 1989, when he was 23, the actor David Harewood had a psychotic breakdown and was sectioned. Two years ago, he spoke publicly about his experiences for the first time, posting on social media for World Mental Health Awareness Day – and was astonished by the response, as over 35,000 people replied, sharing stories of their own struggles. In this film, Harewood sets out to explore what happened to him as a young man, both as a way of further understanding it for himself, and to spread understanding of psychosis, and misconceptions around it. Journeying through his past, he talks with family, friends and colleagues who knew him back then, many of who he has never spoken to about it, and also explores how the racism he experienced could have contributed to his psychosis – and affected the treatment he received in hospital.


Chuck Berry In Concert

10pm, BBC Four

It would be nice to imagine that someone at the BBC went running screaming to the archives searching frantically for this like a vampire hunter scouring the basement for the last clove of garlic, just so as to ward off all the unhealthy musical spirits that are loose in the air this week as a result of The Eurovision Song Contest. Filmed at the BBC Theatre in March 1972, this hour-long set finds Chuck in lean, low-down raw style, wearing a psychedelic shirt, and backed by a band of grubby long hairs trying desperately to keep up with what he’s doing as he plays for an interesting-looking audience. Roll Over Beethoven, Memphis Tennessee, Beer Drinking Woman, Mean Old World, Carol, Nadine: pretty damned utterly fantastic. At least until he pulls out My Ding-A-Ling.


Eurovision Song Contest 2019

8pm, BBC One

The exciting news is that your actual Madonna is threatening to play two songs at this year’s Eurovision event for no reason that makes any sense to any one, beyond her having a sort of ropey sounding new record to sell. Meanwhile, Graham Norton returns to assume his traditional position as commentator as the 64th final rolls out from Tel Aviv, following Israel's win in Lisbon last year. Flying the flag for the UK this time out is Michael Rice from Hartlepool with his song that sounds exactly like it should be rumbling away muted in the background for a building society advert, Bigger Than Us. The coverage is scheduled to last around two and half hours, but, in keeping with tradition, will feel much, much closer to seventeen hours twenty minutes.