Jimmy McGovern has a gift. He’s able to write characters that are so real and relatable you feel like you’ve known them for years!
In the case of his new six-parter Broken, he has created the wonderfully flawed and down on her luck Christina (Anna Friel). When we first meet her she’s rushing past several uninhabited shops as she’s late for work. It’s a world where too many people have to pawn their rings at Cash Switchers to feed their family and where they’re often met with indifference at The Job Centre.
Attempting to restore some faith into this community is Father Michael Kerrigan (Sean Bean); the local Catholic priest who at the start of the episode is introducing elements of the mass to a group of children who are about to take their first Holy Communion.
When Christina arrives at work she’s met by her area manager (Rochenda Sandall) who is furious after discovering she’s taken £60 from the till, leaving an IOU for her boss to find. Following her dismissal, Christina’s life spirals as she attempts to care for her three children despite having no job and no hope of getting benefits in the near future. She’s forced to sell her rings just to feed her family and just as you feel she may turn a corner; she finds her mother dead on her bed.
The realisation that Christina’s mother, who she lived with, had passed away garnered a few tears from several audience members at the BAFTA screening I attended. Friel’s performance is so emotional you couldn’t help but be moved by this woman who is pushed to her limits. By this point, McGovern has established that Christina relies on her mother’s strength and with that gone her situation only worsens. I didn’t understand why Christina decided to conceal the tragedy so it was only when her sister (Clare Calbraith) discovered the truth that she revealed that she was waiting till she’d withdraw her mum’s pension before she informed everyone of the death. However, when Father Kerrigan arrives at the scene he quickly realises what Christina has done and explains to her what’ll happen when the police finally investigate the tragedy.
This first episode stuck with me long after the screening but all of the memorable scenes featured Christina’s struggles and her various tragedies. As someone with a retail background, the scene at Cash Switchers particularly resonated with me as the cashier’s speech about getting verbally abused by the customers is something I’ve often wanted to vocalise. As both the character of Christina and Friel’s performance provided the highlights of this opener I was surprised to learn from McGovern that she won’t be in all of the series. Instead, the series will focus primarily on Father Kerrigan whilst Christina’s absence will be filled by other parishioners all of whom presumably will be coming to the church for help. In a way this news was disappointing partly because I’d become close to Christina during the hour and partly as I never found Father Kerrigan that compelling.
I think this was because when the priest was on his own the story flashed back to images of his awful childhood where he was berated by his devoutly Catholic mother or physically abused by the priests at his Catholic school who accused him of plagiarism. These visions begin to affect Michael and plague him throughout the episode and it’s a fair assumption they’ll only get worse throughout the series. Michael is also forced to return to his hometown to care for his now dying mother and therefore the painful memories come flooding back once again. I felt the best moments of Father Kerrigan came when he was interacting with the community whether it be attempting to aide Christina by presenting her with food bank vouchers or cheering on the local football team during one of the episode’s rare comedic moments. This isn’t a knock against Sean Bean who I felt brilliantly played against type as this kind-hearted individual whose attempts to solve the problems in his parish are often met with resentment. I did feel that I’d initially struggle to accept Bean playing a priest but by the end I found him utterly convincing as Father Kerrigan.
At the screening, McGovern said he never intended for Broken to have a political agenda and that he wrote it before the election was even announced. However, from his comments on the benefit system to the line about parents getting in debt after buying Communion outfits for their children; there’s definitely some underlying statements about the state of the country. For me this social commentary provided some of the episode’s more noteworthy scenes and I’m hoping it continues following the conclusion of Christina’s storyline. Overall, there was a lot to admire about this first episode of Broken from the performances of Friel and Bean to the wonderful dialogue of McGovern. Whilst I’ll be sticking with the series to see what happens to Christina, I’m not sure if I’m going to devote myself to Father Kerrigan’s story in the long term. For me, it just depends how strong the rest of the stories are but I’m optimistic that McGovern has more characters to introduce who’ll have as much emotional impact as Anna Friel’s struggling single mother did.
Broken Continues Tuesday’s at 9.00pm on BBC ONE