Despite its premiere being just last week (Wednesday, May 15th), we can already tell Shane Meadows’ The Virtues is going to be a show we’ll talk about for years to come.
The combination of heartwrenching performances with Meadows’ stark filmmaking style has been surprising viewers like a suckerpunch.
But music, as we all know, also has a profound effect in film and television.
So how does PJ Harvey’s soundtrack for The Virtues fare and what is its impact on the show? Here’s what we have to say about the soundtrack and how it compares to her previous work…
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The Virtues music
The soundtrack was written by acclaimed British artist PJ Harvey.
When speaking about writing music for the show, PJ said she sent demos of tracks for director Shane Meadows to play with in the editing process. But rather than rerecording the music, they made the decision to leave in the demos, “adding to the raw beauty of the piece”.
The unpolished and unproduced nature of some of the tracks without a doubt intensifies the realism of Shane Meadows’ direction style.
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Broadcast tonight at 9pm on @channel4 is the first episode of the new 4-part drama series ‘The Virtues’ by Shane Meadows, for which I provided much of the music score. Shane has chosen to use my song “The Crowded Cell” to play out each episode so I will be making it available via my SoundCloud page at 9pm tonight. (link in bio). Photo Credit: Dean Rogers. #thevirtues
‘The Crowded Cell’
The end of each episode is closed by ‘The Crowded Cell’, a track with a raw intensity which, while not overpowering, plays well into the anguish of the characters.
Well, The Virtues @Channel4 is outstanding – Stephen Graham is insanely good. Masterpiece from Shane Meadows. Stunning score by PJ Harvey.
— Jake Marley (@JMarleyWrites) May 21, 2019
Although the lyrics depict a torturous prison scene, if we are to interpret them as Joseph’s (Stephen Graham) internal torment, they become all the more powerful: ‘I’m in a crowded cell… They clamp my head with irons / Their hands becoming fists.’
When we are introduced to the track at the end of episode 1, Joseph is making his return to Ireland, to find what? We are not sure.
But the refrain of the track lingers with the listener – ‘You will see us again. You will remember this.’ – and becomes more potent, as we watch Joseph attempt to deny his memories and journey back through his difficult childhood.
The Virtues vs. All About Eve
This is not her first stint writing music specifically for film and tv.
Earlier this year, PJ even ventured into writing for theatre and composed the soundtrack for the Noel Coward Theatre’s production of All About Eve.
This soundtrack is filled with emotional and tender instrumental pieces dotted with features from the two lead actresses Gillian Anderson and Lily James on ‘The Sandman’ and ‘The Moth’, respectively.
But for many who saw the West End Play the music did not have the same impact as in The Virtues. Some even called it “out of place”.
I loved PJ Harvey’s 2 songs in All About Eve but they seemed totally out of place and pointless in the piece . Again I kept asking myself why?
— Marc Almond (@MarcAlmond) April 21, 2019
The dreamy nature of the soundtrack also seems detached from the PJ Harvey we know and love, the PJ Harvey of ‘Let England Shake’.
And that’s the PJ we definitely get on The Virtues soundtrack.
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The original score to All About Eve is available now across all digital retailers. The 12-track album recorded with musicians @jamesfjohnston and @kenrickrowe contains 10 original pieces of instrumental music, as well as 2 new songs – ‘The Moth’ sung by @lilyjamesofficial and ‘The Sandman’ sung by @gilliana. Released by @invadarecords and @lakeshorerecords.
WATCH THE VIRTUES EVERY WEDNESDAY AT 9 PM ON CHANNEL 4.