Shane Meadows reveals new Irish set drama for Channel 4 is inspired by traumatic incident from his own childhood

Shane Meadows has revealed that his latest TV series is based on a horrific and life-changing experience from his childhood.

The English writer and director has made the deeply personal four-part series, The Virtues, which is set largely in Ireland, for Channel 4.

Stephen Graham, who previously starred in Meadows’ series This is England, ’86, ’88, and ’90, plays the lead role of Joseph.

He is haunted by a past he has tried to forget and obscure with drink and drugs and eventually boards a boat to Ireland to confront hazy memories from his childhood spent in care.

Irish actor Helen Behan (who also previously starred in This is England ’88 and ’90) plays Anna, the sister Joseph has not seen since childhood.

She persuades her husband Michael (Frank Laverty) to let her long lost brother stay and give him work in the family’s building company.

However, Joseph is forced to confront his past when he comes face to face with Craigy (Mark O’Halloran), a dark character who won’t leave him alone.

Fellow Irish actor Niamh Algar plays Dinah, Michael’s fiery sister to whom Joseph is drawn and who is also haunted by a dark secret.

Speaking to The Guardian about the series, Meadows revealed that the story is inspired by a hugely traumatic event from his own childhood.

When he was just nine years old in 1982 his father Arty, a lorry driver, was taken into custody on suspicion of murder after he discovered the body of 11-year-old schoolgirl Susan Maxwell and police wrongly thought he might have killed her.

Also around that time Shane was sexually abused in a local wood by a boy about four years older than him, a horrific experience which has had an enormous impact on him throughout his life.

“From my point of view, this was a chance for me to create a safe space, to face my abuser. All I wanted was to be able to sit down with this guy, via Stephen Graham,” he told The Guardian of The Virtues.

“I’ve always been honest about where my stories come from, how personal they are. It would obviously have been easier for me not to talk about this one, but I’m not making an exception. I’m not scared or ashamed any more. Plenty of people have been through far worse and they’ve told their stories. What happened to me is the reason the series exists.”

The series is directed and co-written by Meadows with co-writer Jack Thorne and features a soundtrack by PJ Harvey and begins on Channel 4 on Wednesday May 15 at 9pm.

If you have been affected by any of the issue raised in this article you can contact the Rape Crisis Centre on their 24 Hour Helpline on 1800 778888 or visit

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