Catholicism runs right through the writing of Jimmy McGovern. Sometimes it’s a seam of gold, other times it’s poison. The movie Priest (1994) portrayed the Church as a barrier to genuine Christianity: bigotry conspires to defrock a good cleric. In Broken (BBC One, Mondays, 9pm), however, the Church comforts the desperately poor.
Sean Bean plays Fr Michael, a priest drawn into the life of Christina, a jobless single mum who insists that she’s not “in pain” just “skint”.
McGovern has a gift for morally ambivalent characterisation, and often it’s the characters who judge themselves. “Fitz”, the lead in his Nineties cop show Cracker, was a brilliant psychologist but also a gambling addict – a man who was sensitive and smart enough to know that he was ruining the lives of his family. Did this stop him? Nope.
Likewise, Christina is a victim of poverty, yes, but also of bad decisions. Did she have to borrow money from the till? Did she have to punch her boss? And when she found her own mother dead, did she have to pretend she was alive so that she could illegally claim her pension?
Fr Michael visits to perform the Last Rites and quickly spots that the poor old girl has been stiff as a board for three days. So, should he report Christina or help her?A materialist might conclude that what Christina needs isn’t prayer but money.
Maybe a younger McGovern would have agreed, but there’s a maturity in Broken’s handling of Catholicism that wasn’t there in the earlier, angrier Priest. Fr Michael articulates Catholicism as a mystery that, with a little common sense, is easy to digest – and willing to listen and learn.
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