By: Jo Siedlecka
I was bracing myself for the final episode of Broken on BBC1 last night. But Jimmy McGovern's pitch perfect writing and Sean Bean's hypnotic, understated performance as Fr Michael Kerrigan did not disappoint. This drama portrays one of those many good priests, who has really taken to heart the advice of Pope Francis to bring the healing power of God's grace to everyone in need, to stay close to the marginalised and to be "shepherds living with the smell of the sheep."
We are used to seeing clergy depicted performing their sacramental roles. But the huge amount of pastoral work the average Catholic priest does often goes unrecognised - the visits to the housebound, those in prison or in hospital, accompanying people in times of crisis. All those deaths, weddings, baptisms and funerals. All those problems. All that listening! This series has gone behind the scenes for what feels like a very authentic portrayal of life in a run down north country parish.
The plotline each week has been very tense and dark - but at the most difficult moments Fr Michael often pauses to light a candle - "to remind us that God is with us here" he says. Fr Michael is always the priest, not a social worker.
The series also shows something else we forget - our priests have private lives. They may not be married but they have siblings and aging parents that also need looking after. We see Fr Michael on his day off visiting his terminally-ill mother - week after week. His sister helps out but his brothers, who stopped going to church years ago aren't much use.
Fr Michael is not shown as some insipid saint. He is also struggling with memories of very brutal childhood experiences at the hands of a predatory older priest and has a rough past. How does he come to terms with this? Watch the series.
There's a beautiful scene in the first episode when Fr Michael recalls how he begins to rediscover his faith during a walk on the moors when he saw a falcon returning.
The series touches on many controversial issues - some episodes reminiscent of Ken Loach's I Daniel Blake - although McGovern said he had no political intentions when he wrote the script. In an interview he said: "It's about broken humanity. The idea that you're at your strongest when you're at your weakest."
There's a strong Eucharistic message throughout - with the community of broken people brought together as they hear the words 'This is My Body broken for You…' and line up to receive Holy Communion.
I hope Broken is watched and discussed in seminaries. I think it would also be useful with RCIA and other discussion groups.
Jimmy McGovern and Sean Bean deserve BAFTAs for this superb series. So does Anna Friel with Aisling Loftus and the rest of the cast.
Catch it on iplayer if you missed it.
Sarah Hughes in this morning's Guardian writes:
Broken: TV's unmissable answer to It's a Wonderful Life – with added Sean Bean. Harrowing, heartbreaking and finally hopeful, Jimmy McGovern has taken a leaf out of Frank Capra's book to serve up some staggering television
Watch Broken on iplayer here: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08s7nyz/episodes/player