Touching portrayal of an inner-city priest

Touching portrayal of an inner-city priest

I thought I’d be writing this a week ago, but the start of the much anticipated drama Broken (BBC One, Tuesday nights) was postponed by a week out of sensitivity over the Manchester bombing, though I’m not quite sure as to why.

Seán Bean stars as Fr Michael Kerrigan, an inner city priest struggling with his own demons and the problems of his varied parishioners, and I think it’s one of the best things Bean has ever done. He manages a quiet but strong empathy, portraying Fr Michael as a gentle soul, confident in his work but bothered in private by flashbacks from what seems a difficult childhood.

The show, written by Jimmy McGovern (Brookside, Cracker) is reminiscent of the work of director Ken Loach, sharing some of his concerns about poverty, social welfare, bureaucracy and more. I was reminded of Kes (the hawk in the flashbacks) and Raining Stones (parents splashing out more than they can afford for first Communion outfits), and there were similarities to a US show from the mid 90s Nothing Sacred. 

I was most impressed by the touching prayer scenes. In one, after saying he wasn’t Our Lady’s greatest fan, he says a heartfelt Hail Mary with a woman who has just found out she can’t have children, while in another he prays the Our Father with a woman, Christina, whose mother has died. Christina is the other main character so far, a vulnerable single mother not coping very well with the demands of family life. She is so well played by Anna Friel, a versatile actress who can do everything from whimsy (Pushing Daisies) to psychosis (Marcella).

Adrian Dunbar (Line of Duty) appears as Fr Peter, but his role is as yet undefined – in his only scene the role seems to be that of counsellor, for now.

It’s an adult drama, with a modest amount of bad language and some dirty jokes at a comedy club but overall it has huge heart and sensitivity.

The cinematography and music are excellent, though the flashback scenes feature a poetry-quoting priest who cruelly slaps the young Michael because he reckons he got help writing a poem for class. It’s not all nasty Church imagery though, and the young Michael seems imbued with a sense of wonder in the church, and inspired by the poetry of Hopkins. In an early scene, Fr Michael seems dismissive of the idea that first Confession children would have any sins at that age and is strong on the idea of general absolution for all at the ceremony, but apart from that he is neither trendy liberal or cranky conservative.


On a lighter note, I really enjoyed the documentary 50 Years with Peter, Paul and Mary (Sky Arts, last Sunday night). I remember once a young person I knew thinking these three were Biblical characters (I suppose they are in a way!) instead of the influential US folk group.

Their repertoire often included traditional gospel songs and in this retrospective we heard them singing Go Tell It on the Mountain among others. They also sang contemporary religious songs, mainly thanks to Paul (Noel Paul Stookey) who has a few Gospel albums to his credit.

At the end of this show, after seeing moving footage from Mary Travers’ memorial service, we learned that Paul now, along with his wife, presents multi denominational music and faith oriented events, while Peter Yarrow continues to perform with his daughter.

There was much emphasis on their social activism – we saw them singing Blowin’ in the Wind at Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and involved in campaigns against the Vietnam War and US interference in El Salvador.

BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Worship programme last weekend focussed on the Big Church Day Out, a contemporary multi-denominational Christian festival. Among those featured was US Catholic singer-songwriter Matt Maher (performing at St Paul’s in Dublin this Saturday). He had provided music for that morning’s Mass of Pentecost and made some sensible points, e.g. suggesting that as Christians we fussed too much about the small stuff.

Also, he found that as a society we were not good at getting on with people we disagreed with, and thought that Christians coming together and loving each other despite differences showed good example that was badly needed. The awful London attack that dominated the media from last Saturday night was unwelcome evidence of that.


Pick of the week
The Big Questions

BBC 1, Sunday, June 11, 11.15am
Last episode in the series, asking if interfering with genes is ethical.

Inside God’s Observatory: A Sky at Night Special

BBC 4, Sunday, June 11, 10pm
Featuring the Vatican Observatory and the priest scientists who study a range of contemporary astronomical problems.

Church And The Poor – The Gospel Come Alive

EWTN, Thursday, June 15, 2.30pm
The Missionaries of the Poor profess that there is a great need for selfless love in a self-centred society