The central character in Jimmy McGovern’s new BBC One TV series Broken is a Catholic priest serving a poor Merseyside parish.
In an interview on the BBC website, McGovern describes how he wanted to introduce a Catholic priest into TV series Brookside.
He talks of the dramatic impact of confession because viewers know that in the confessional characters speak the absolute truth.
His 1994 film Priest explores some of the conflicts between “principles and practicalities” in the priest’s role, a theme which recurs in Broken.
In Priest, the limitations of confession are explored when a woman reveals that she is being sexually abused by her father.
The priest tries to warn the mother, but bound by the secrecy of the confessional, fails.
McGovern’s writing is powerful and Broken has a superb cast with Sean Bean as Father Michael Kerrigan.
He is a good man who is on the side of his parishioners, trying to mediate between them and the harsh realities of 21st century poverty.
Through him religion is portrayed the as revolutionary Karl Marx describes it as “the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions”.
Bean’s character is able to offer some practical help when they are in distress.
That ranges from vouchers for the food bank to a suggestion that children should wear their school
uniform for their first communion so families can avoid getting into debt buying suits and dresses.
Otherwise he relies on the comfort offered by ritual, candles and prayers, like the Hail Marys he shares with a woman who has just been told she is infertile.
Christina (Anna Friel) is a young mother whose problems are central to Broken’s first episode.
She abandons the expectations of her religion when she is sacked from her low paid job.
Christina is then told by the Department for Work and Pensions that she is ineligible to claim any benefits for thirteen weeks.
This leaves her in a state of desperation and us in suspense, not knowing how or whether it will be resolved.
Broken explores the conflicts and contradictions faced by a priest genuinely trying to help parishioners living and working in unacceptable conditions of poverty and stress.
At the same time the series promises to expose some of the monstrous practices that prey upon poverty—and increase rather than alleviate it.