wed 19/06/2024

Broken, BBC One review - things look bleak in McGovernville | reviews, news & interviews

Broken, BBC One review - things look bleak in McGovernville

Broken, BBC One review - things look bleak in McGovernville

Misery and moral hazard in a northern town

Dear God: Sean Bean as long-suffering Father Michael Kerrigan

This is Jimmy McGovern, so it’s no surprise to find ourselves up north and feeling grim.

The prolific screenwriter’s latest drama series is located in what is described only as “a northern city” (though apparently it’s 60 miles from Sheffield, which would take you to McGovern’s home town of Liverpool as the crow flies).

Here, wherever it is, kindly Father Michael Kerrigan (a sotto voce Sean Bean) does his best to minister to his depressed and impoverished flock, who are struggling to make ends meet both physically and spiritually. In particular, we zero in on Christina Fitzsimmons (Anna Friel, pictured below), a single mother-of-three seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We first encountered her as she brought her daughter to Father Michael’s church to prepare for her first communion, then had to rush off in near-hysterics to get back to her job in a betting shop.

Broken, BBC One She needn’t have bothered. Her female boss discovered Christina’s IOU note for 60 quid in the cash box, and sacked her for stealing (ignoring Christina’s wailing protestations that she only “borrowed” it because she was skint and couldn’t feed the kids). This prompted a full-on fist-fight between the women, Christina eventually scarpering from the premises with a bloody nose and a black eye.

The title of Broken, it seems, may refer to many things, and not just noses. Families, social ties, hearts, promises and ambitions all fall under the broad titular rubric. Not to mention the Catholic church, which looms large in the narrative, but in an elephant-in-the-room sort of way. The more Father Kerrigan tries to remind his congregation of the love of Christ and God’s mercy, the less any of them seem to feel it. Kerrigan himself is haunted by horrific flashbacks to beatings and bullying in his childhood, not just from his shrieking harridan mother but from the sadistic Father Fitzpatrick (Tony Guilfoyle, pictured below). Now, his mother is a bedridden invalid, and Kerrigan and his sister have to share the burden of giving her 24/7 care.

No doubt about it, McGovernville is a bleak old dump, though not entirely unleavened by flashes of possibly accidental humour. When the desperate Christina went to sell her rings to raise a bit of emergency cash, this prompted a kind of instructional homily on social breakdown and how the underclass is forced to prey on itself, as the pawnshop man lamented that he had a shitty job which forced him to rip off customers, but he couldn’t afford to quit. When she tried to apply for jobseeker’s allowance, and admitted she’d stolen money and punched her previous employer, the look on her interviewer’s face was priceless.

Broken, BBC One Things took a turn for even worse when Christina’s mother suddenly died. Bafflingly, her reaction was not to call an ambulance – if there are any in McGovernville – but to wrap her poor old mum in the bedclothes and stick a DO NOT ENTER sign on the door. Why on earth would she do this? Eventually enlightenment was forthcoming – Christina wasn’t going to admit her mam had passed on before she’d collected the old girl’s pension.

“You heartless, scheming bitch,” hissed her sister Mariella (Clare Calbraith) when she eventually found out (by this time the corpse was three days old). As we reached the end credits, saintly Father Kerrigan was with Christina at her mother’s deathbed, wondering how she could avoid going to prison. If you’re looking for misery and squalor, Jimmy has obliged.


The Catholic church looms large in an elephant-in-the-room sort of way


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article


Good review of the first ep - in contrast to others which have lauded McGovern (perhaps only because he is McGovern?) I found it miserable and trite. I didn't engage with any of the characters and felt nothing when Christina's mother died. More importantly, I wanted to know WHY she was so short of money, especially as the IOU discovery was such a catalyst for later events. For me, this fell well short of the depth and sincerity displayed in Three Girls and Little Boy Blue. Disappointing.

Yes, I agree. This felt a bit like like painting by numbers.

Well I have just finished watching the third episode of Broken and I am glad I stuck with it. I found the first two episodes more bleak than entertaining , perhaps not the best combo for a Tuesday evening entertainment. But unlike some other reviewers I did find the characters compelling and the situations incredibly relevant and accurate. Anna friel character a typical person who seems compelled to make the wrong discisions and as such an architecht of her own disaster as well as a strong independent woman battleing against the odds. There are no simple archytypes ; rather complex and increasingly engaging situations and catastrophes all held together by the great god Sean B( there is a blatant pun there if you look carefully) . Bean is super understated and as far from Hollywood as is humanly possible to be. His character personifies the fragility and great masculine strength of the Catholic Juganaught and holds it up for up for scrutiny through a first person account of the depravity and damage and the battle that has been raging for years Morality v Human nature encounted with a sincerity and understanding that had me weeping through the whole of episode 3. My husband has consigned this latest offering from the BBC to the recycle bin, but I will encourage him to pick up the remote again to see if he experiences the conversion, in a Saul to damask as kind of way, as I have. I am blown away by this and am awaiting the next episode. I thought it was a three parter and though I quite liked the finality of the closing credits and incredibly life like ambiguity this left I think I will enjoy the continuation and 'resolution' to this wonderful drama.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters