RTS North West previewed Jimmy McGovern’s new BBC One drama at its mid-May event, bringing together the award-winning writer and key members of the production team to discuss the making of the programme following a screening of the first episode.
Broken, which stars Sean Bean as a troubled priest working in an impoverished community, also features Adrian Dunbar and Anna Friel in a strong cast.
Like McGovern’s previous work – including the RTS award-winning Cracker and The Street – the Liverpool-set drama features memorable characters.
Colin McKeown – whose indie LA Productions made Broken and who has produced many McGovern dramas – told the RTS event at the Lowry, Salford, that the writer had a gift for creating stories with truthful characters. “Jimmy walks in everybody’s shoes”, he said.
McGovern said at the event that he aspires to “make even the smallest character a real person with their own hopes and dreams”.
“Be each character’s ideal barrister,” McGovern told Television after the event. “Argue their case – and don’t be frightened to attack your case either. Because if you’re defending a truth or a cause, unless there’s something wrong with it, you will win.”
McGovern’s work is known for its hard-hitting content, but he said that he doesn’t actively try to be political: “If there are inferences to be made [from my writing], the audience will make them.”
The writer, who grew up in a Catholic Liverpool family, explained that Broken does not take its name from the phrase “broken Britain”, but “from the breaking of the Eucharist”.
Parish priest Father Denis Blackledge, the show’s religious adviser, discussed the thinking behind the drama at the RTS event. “Jesus’s body was broken to save us. None of us can be given unless we are broken. Father Michael [Bean’s character] can help people in their brokenness only because he is stronger by being broken himself,” he said.
Broken is not the first time that McGovern has tried to write about a priest in torment. Some three decades ago he pitched the idea of a 10-part television series based on the commandments and then a seven-part series on the deadly sins. He also wrote the screenplay to Antonia Bird’s widely praised 1994 film, feature Priest.
McGovern’s persistence has been rewarded and Broken began its six-part run on BBC One at the end of May. To get a passion piece on screen, he advised: “You don’t have to be better than anybody else – you’ve just got to work harder.”
All photos by Claire Harrison