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Now streaming: 'Broken' offers up Sean Bean's poignant portrayal of a Catholic priest

BROKEN,BBC,PRIEST

BBC | Fair Use

David Ives - published on 09/17/18

Watching Brit TV's 'Broken' will definitely make you want to run out and do something nice for Father.

Let’s be honest, when you first hear that Sean Bean is playing a Catholic priest in the BBC limited series, Broken, chances are you probably think you already know how the story is going to play out. More than likely the former Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones actor will punch a few sinners in the face and then he’ll die, presumably at the pointy end of some sharp object. After all, if the internet meme machine has taught us anything, it’s that Sean Bean must die.

Fortunately, that’s not what happens in Broken. Instead, what transpires is that Sean Bean delivers a touching, nuanced performance as the troubled parish priest Father Michael Kerrigan who, despite his own internal issues, does everything within his power to help the members of his flock. And, rest assured, they do need help. Lots of it.

There is Christina, for instance, a recently sacked single mother of three whose desperate need for cash drives her to hide her own mum’s death so she can claim the older woman’s pension. The authorities naturally disapprove. Money is also the source of businesswoman Roz’s problems, though her financial woes revolve around the fact that she has stolen a large sum from her employee to fuel a gambling addiction. Facing incarceration and public shame, Roz informs Father Michael she intends to commit suicide.

It doesn’t stop there, though. The mentally ill son of Trinidadian immigrant Helen has a tragic encounter with police, which causes all sorts of trouble for constable Andrew when he decides to buck the official report of the incident. To complicate matters, Helen’s brother arrives and instantly runs afoul of the UK’s stringent hate crime laws after a heated confrontation with a gay neighbor. It seems everyone who fills the pews of St. Nick’s is in a predicament and they all expect their priest to help. That would be fine except that Father Michael is having difficulties of his own in the form of flashbacks to an abusive childhood.

From all that, it should be obvious that Broken is not the feel-good show of the year, at least for most of its running time. In fact, as personal experience can attest, binge-watching all six episodes of the series at once can be something of a sustained exercise in misery. On top of this, the show’s writer, Jimmy McGovern, can’t resist having each episode deliver at least one screed on the perpetual pet peeves of lapsed Catholics everywhere. At least once per show a character stops to take a potshot at the Church’s position on women’s ordination, homosexuality, etcetera, etcetera. You know the routine.

However, such scenes never overstay their welcome. For the most part the show concentrates on the personal interactions between Father Michael and the people who come to him in need, and those moments are never anything less than involving. If nothing else, watching the fictional Father Michael struggle to provide whatever aid and comfort he can to so many parishioners at once should make anyone pause and reflect on the psychological and emotional weight their own local priest must be carrying. Watching Broken will definitely make you want to run out and do something nice for Father.

As fine as that is, the show aims for something deeper still. Each episode includes at least one instance of Father Michael presiding over Mass (correctly, I might add), focusing mostly on the consecration of the host. It’s in these scenes that we see how the title of the show wants us to conflate the broken people in the pews (and at the altar) with the broken body of Christ present in the Eucharist. In fact, the writer himself hinted as much in an interview with The Tablet.

That may seem an odd sentiment coming from a man like McGovern who no longer practices his faith, but it’s one that rings true. As Pope Benedict XVI once explained, “A celebrated Eucharist imposes on us and at the same time renders us capable of becoming, in our turn, bread broken for brothers, coming to meet their needs and giving ourselves. Because of this, a Eucharistic celebration that does not lead to meet men where they live, work and suffer, to take to them the love of God, does not manifest the love it encloses.”

You can’t argue with that and Broken doesn’t try to. Rather it embraces the idea and uses it as the foundation to tell a rich and rewarding story. And yes, it even manages to provide a somewhat happy ending with Sean Bean alive and well as the end credits roll.

Broken is currently streaming on Britbox.

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