Jimmy McGovern's Catholic drama isn't what you would expect from a show about a priest and his parish. It isn't an affirmation of the power of God, and it isn't a damning banishment of the Catholic Church. It's a fairly balanced look at how desperate people seek the wisdom of a higher spirit.
Father Michael Kerrigan, a Catholic priest, presides over his urban Northern England parish. The Father must be a confidante and a counselor to a community struggling to survive. He is tasked with inspiring beliefs in his congregation, but his own tortured past threatens to challenge his own beliefs.
What is most intriguing about Broken is that it's a show about a religion - a religion that thousands upon thousands of people believe in - and yet, it doesn't praise the power of belief nor does it discredit it. The members of Father Michael Kerrigan's perish are skint, they're struggling, and they're desperate for better lives. They seek out the wisdom and advice of Father Michael, who promises to save them, yet none of them are saved. They all spiral out of control, with God refusing to help. Yet, the community members never relinquish their devout devotion to their God. Because they are desperate to believe that someone, or something, out there will help to heal their pain.
McGovern's story looks at how and why people can put their faith into something that is completely intangible. What convinces these people into believing that a divine spirit is out there, ready to save their souls? It's clear that McGovern isn't remarking on the institution of the Church (that's clear from Father Michael's backstory), but on the ideology of faith. Through Father Michael, McGovern persistently questions and challenges the practices of the Church, yet his characters remain faith in God remain in tack. Broken provides an interesting look at the separation of the institution of religion and the power of faith in a community that is desperate for divine intervention.
Sean Bean, quite an unusual choice to play a gentle priest, pulls off a stunning performance as the soft-spoken and soulful Father Michael. He perfectly captures the grandness and prestige of the holy figure, while also carefully exploring the hunting trauma of the Father's past. The rest of the cast, particularly Mark Stanley and Anna Friel, give soul-baring performances, revealing the true desperation of their character's lives. Under the direction of Ashley Pearce, the show is beautifully shot and wonderfully scored. The subject matter is challenging and the characters, in particular Father Michael, are dramatically layered and complicated. Yet, my biggest complaint about the program is the numerously overused transitions of people walking briskly or the Church doors opening.
Broken is a tough, social realism drama. At times it's hard to process, but it projects an interesting conversation about the institution of religion and its place in our current society.
The six part series airs on BBC One Tuesday nights at 9
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