British Jesuit Denis Blackledge was asked to mentor Sean Bean in his preparations for new BBC series on the priesthood.
A new TV series will be released this Spring on BBC One that centers on a Catholic priest and his struggles serving a city parish in the 21st century. Titled simply Broken, the 6-episode series was penned by acclaimed screenwriter Jimmy McGovern and features an all-star cast including the talent of Paula Malcomson (The Hunger Games) and Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones).
In order to further add authenticity to the portrayal of the Catholic priesthood, McGovern sought the help of a local Jesuit priest, Father Denis Blackledge. McGovern had graduated from Saint Francis Xavier’s College in Liverpool and made the decision to film the series on location at the local parish of Saint Francis Xavier, which is led by Father Blackledge.
According to Father Blackledge in an article featured in the magazine Jesuits and Friends, “They wanted to know what it was like to be a Catholic priest working in an urban environment in the early 21st century. It starts in the guts, I told them; then it goes through the heart of a man who knows his own strengths and weaknesses, vulnerabilities and personal history. Eventually, it comes out in a compassionate understanding approach, with open eyes, listening ear and heart, taking individuals as they come, no matter what the situation.”
In particular, actor Sean Bean, who takes on the role of pastor Father Michael Kerrigan in the series, sought the help of Father Blackledge in order to effectively bring to life a Catholic priest. Bean even attended a Sunday Mass at Saint Francis Xavier to experience for himself the liturgy he would reenact on screen. Prior to this series Bean starred in the biblical drama, The Young Messiah, and explained to The Orange County Register, “I’m Christian, so I’m familiar with the stories, though I’m no theologian by any means … It’s always interesting as an adult to go back on things and look at things in a fresh light. Because you’re taught things at an earlier age and they’re not really presented in an interesting manner.”
Father Blackledge proceeded to teach Bean the various parts of the Mass and ensured that the script reflected the current translation of the Missal. According to Father Blackledge, Bean took seriously his role portraying a Catholic priest and even recognized when the actors approaching him to receive communion were “not doing it right.” Father Blackledge was present throughout the filming of the series and continually mentored Bean to ensure his role was as authentic as possible.
The character of Father Michael Kerrigan was described by whatsontv.com as a “confidante and counselor to a congregation struggling to reconcile its beliefs with the trials and tribulations of daily life.” Each episode of the series “features different characters who face chance encounters that make them question identity and perceptions.”
Broken will air some time after Easter on BBC One, with the possibility of a wider audience if the series is successful.