"Broken" airs 23 May

Sean Bean as Fr Michael Kerrigan
Sean Bean as Fr Michael Kerrigan

BBC One viewers are in for a treat when a new six-part drama starring Sean Bean as Fr Michael Kerrigan begins on Tuesday 23 May at 9pm.

Broken is set in a Catholic community in the north of England and tells the moving stories of its priest and parishioners. The poverty, grief, crime and family troubles that afflict the people of the parish all evoke the compassion of Fr Michael, who seeks to help those around him while he faces his own personal struggles. Writer Jimmy McGovern is in no doubt about how he wants the audience to feel about his main character: ‘He’s a fantastic priest. He totally believes in the power of prayer… but he also believes that God helps people who help themselves.’

Fr Denis Blackledge advises

Much of the series was filmed in the Jesuit Church of St Francis Xavier in Liverpool, known locally as SFX, and Parish Priest Fr Denis Blackledge SJ was on hand throughout the filming to act as a religious advisor. ‘Fr Denis stood right by Sean Bean the whole time,’ said producer Colin McKeown, and the attention to detail adds an air of authenticity to the scenes that take place in the church. This was clearly important to McGovern, whose own Catholic upbringing (he even considered a vocation to the priesthood) informed the creation of the series.

People might think that the title refers to ‘Broken Britain’, especially given that it will air during a General Election campaign and addresses many issues that affect voters. But McGovern says he had no such political intentions in mind when he wrote the script. ‘It’s about broken humanity,’ he says, ‘the idea that you’re at your strongest when you’re at your weakest.’ And he has a strong Eucharistic interpretation of what that means, referring to the ‘solidarity and strength’ which bind a community of broken people together when they take Holy Communion. Fr Denis recalls Jimmy McGovern saying to him at one point during the filming, ‘It’s all about the Eucharist’.

Gerard Manley Hopkins connection

Viewers familiar with the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ will recognise the lines from ‘The Windhover’ that find their way into the first episode, and McGovern is proud to say that while the priest-poet was based at SFX he gave communion to McGovern’s great-grandfather. Hopkins dedicated that poem ‘To Christ our Lord’, and his expression of his theology through his poems has captured the imagination of countless readers over the years. McGovern’s theology now has the potential to engage viewers of Broken in new conversations about faith, the Church, and what it means to dedicate one’s life and work ‘To Christ our Lord’.

Read Fr Denis's account of the filming