wed 20/09/2017

Broken, BBC One series finale review - Seán Bean's quiet immensity | reviews, news & interviews

Broken, BBC One series finale review - Seán Bean's quiet immensity

Broken, BBC One series finale review - Seán Bean's quiet immensity

Jimmy McGovern's portrait of the Catholic church in crisis ends in moving redemption

Forgiven: Muna Otaru and Seán Bean in 'Broken'BBC/Tony Blake

The Catholic Church hasn’t enjoyed a good press on screen lately. Nuns punished Irishwomen for their pregnancies in Philomena. Priests interfered with altar boys in Spotlight. And in The Young Pope a Vatican fixated on conservatism and casuistry elects a pontiff who sees himself as a rock star. Broken was Jimmy McGovern’s agonised absolution for a church in crisis.

Over six parts on BBC One, Broken has felt like walking along half a dozen stations of the cross. McGovern’s portrait of a broken priest – and by extension, a broken priesthood – was exceptionally short on levity or solace. The doubts of Father Michael Kerrigan pursued him to the brink of despair, as he perceived in himself only failure and fraudulence. And the redemption when it came felt like a message from McGovern to the Roman Catholic church. Not quite keep calm and bugger on (because that has been part of the problem), but keep the faith, keep up the good work.

At times the drama looked like a greatest hits of McGovern’s obsessions and preoccupations. Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “The Wind Hover” first came up in The Lakes, the priest who is fearful of his own homosexuality in Priest. A character who couldn’t live with himself leapt off a high-rise building in Cracker. And from Cracker onwards, a constant thread of McGovern’s writing has been the moral dilemma of the priest, as a receptacle of terrible truths, who cannot break the seal of confession. Adrian Dunbar, who played one such priest in the very first episode of Cracker, completed the circle as a sort of benign father confessor to Father Michael Kerrigan in Broken.Ned Dennehy in BrokenBut it has all been very different too. Unlike the self-contained stories in McGovern's dramas The Street or Accused, the blighted lives of Broken’s parishioners spilled across one another. Only the fifth episode embarked on a plotline and concluded it, and it felt like one McGovern has been itching to tackle for years: the dialectical struggle between the letter and spirit of the Bible on the matter of homosexuality (eliciting a firecracker of a performance from Ned Dennehy as grieving, dope-smoking lapsed Catholic homosexual).

Elsewhere, a woman kept her mother’s death secret so she could claim her pension. A mentally ill boy was unlawfully killed by the police. A woman addicted to gambling abandoned her three children by committing suicide rather than face the shame of prison for theft. Her daughter took vengeance on the slot machines with a sledgehammer, allowing Phil Davis to march in and deliver two wonderfully contrasting cameos.

Sometimes it has felt as if McGovern and his co-writers (Shaun Duggan, Colette Kane, Nick Leather) were wielding a similar implement. But mostly the writing has been feather-light, and it has met with a performance of quiet immensity from Seán Bean as Father Michael, the priest who is never off duty (and the one moment he is, when he fails to answer the call of a parishioner, his conscience punishes him to the limits). Bean has made a career out of playing thugs and swashbucklers, so this staggering turn as a softly spoken hulk anguished by cruel memories from his youth came up on the blind side. His voice barely ever troubled the decibel counter until the final episode when he rose to righteous fervour in his sermon about the moneylenders in the temple. Of the many excellent performances, Muna Otaru as Helen Oyenusi and Paula Malcomson as Roz Demichelis (pictured below with Bean) stood out as a sort of suffering Madonna and self-punishing Mary Magdalene.The dramatic structure was never more jaggedly imperfect than in the final episode, which was built around a tense inquest, a riotous wake, and a redemptive funeral. There was nothing so clean as closure in those flashbacks to Kerrigan’s haunting childhood, so reminiscent of Dennis Potter. A deathbed apology from his mother (Aine Ni Mhuiri) was all he got, and it had to be enough. And yet imperfection – the absence of conclusions – felt right.

Probably only McGovern could have got this series commissioned: six primetime hours devoted to matters of faith and conscience in a nominally Anglican culture. At least from Catholicism you get blood, guts and thunder, not the vanilla agonies and pastel ecstasies of the Church of England. The final absolution for Father Michael, in which his parishioners queued up at communion to thank and praise him, was also vintage McGovern: somewhere between unforgiveable and unarguable. Who else confesses that they were deeply moved?

@JasperRees

At times Broken looked like a greatest hits of McGovern’s obsessions and preoccupations

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

I loved this series and was extremely moved by it even though the Independent is telling me I shouldn't be. I'm lost now . I will just have to watch it all again.

I was shocked by the Indy review. This series was always going to be about redemption and I thought the ending was beautiful. Was in tears.

Yes, a strange, snarky review by the Independent. As a semi-religious Methodist, I was truly uplifted by the ending. As an agnostic Tory, I love McGovern's work, despite the occasional OTT socialist rant. And Sean Bean.....I've seen very little of his stuff, but here he WAS a priest, flawed, tortured, humble, and finally redeemed. A magnificet series.

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