Broken: A profound study of Christianity and the priesthood

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If you’re looking for a new TV series to watch, you have to face the volume from which to choose and whether you’re subscribed to the right platform. Then, if you’re not just looking for escapist entertainment, your third problem is whether your new series has depth and speaks to some of life’s big issues.

In 2021, I happened across a tiny review in The Age for Broken, a ‘new’ six-part UK series on Stan. It was said to delve into the life and times of a contemporary English Catholic priest struggling with his calling as deeply as many of his parishioners are struggling to survive. Looked like it might tick the third box on my list of series problems.

Broken first aired on BBC1 in England in 2017. Four years to make it to Australia, but it was worth it. The series is a profound and powerful study of Christianity and what priesthood means, whether for the man holding up the bread at the altar, or that ‘priesthood of all believers’ to which Christianity’s adherents are said to belong.

Veteran screenwriter Jimmy McGovern (Time, The Lakes, Cracker, and Redfern Now) tightly weaves together the lives of priest Michael Kerrigan (Sean Bean) and his parishioners, showing how one person’s act or omission intimately affects other community members.

Broken’s fictional northern English town faces economic hard times, racial disharmony, the scourge of pokies, and crap weather. People work in jobs they ethically hate, but need to do or they won’t eat. Others feel forced to steal their relatives government benefits to survive. Some feel so alone they won’t leave home unless they’re dragged outside. But through all the hardship emerges the truth that, if you’re willing to accept how costly and unsentimental it is, a little bit of love goes a long way.

That love might mean offering reluctant forgiveness to someone who’s bashed you. It could mean, like Jesus, overturning a few tables — with a sledgehammer. It might mean realising that, while you can walk a mile in another’s shoes, you can’t make them follow you. It could mean admitting publicly that you couldn’t be bothered helping someone in the time of their deepest need. Broken’s love cuts and heals simultaneously.

 

'Broken’s ending movingly portrays the Christian understanding of the church, even in its most fragmented, petty and seemingly hopeless, as one body, and that body being the form of Christ in the world.'

 

At first, I thought the title might refer to broken vows. It does and it doesn’t. If you’re looking for a series that shows that priests and Christians can be hypocrites, you’ve found it. But if you’re looking for a series that shows the divine working through the lives of ordinary, fragile people and their joys and heartbreaks, you’ve also found it.

Broken’s ending movingly portrays the Christian understanding of the church, even in its most fragmented, petty and seemingly hopeless, as one body, and that body being the form of Christ in the world. While vow breaking, of various kinds, is part of the plot, it is life that breaks Father Kerrigan — and his parishioners and wider community — like bread on the altar. Here is Father Kerrigan, broken for you all. Here you all are, broken for Father Kerrigan. As the characters confront what they most fear and love, which can look like the same thing, the series appears to say that accepting yourself as broken and allowing yourself to be broken for others, like Christ, is Christianity. Anything less is, well, just escapist entertainment.

Broken is available to watch on Stan

 

Paul Mitchell is a Melbourne writer and his latest book is Matters of Life and Faith (Coventry Press, 2021)

Main image: (Des Willie / BBC)

Topic tags: Paul Mitchell, Broken, review

 

 

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“Broken; For many years on various Catholic Web Sites, I have been advocating a way forward for the Church that relates to the true Divine Mercy Image (Message) which is one of “Broken Man” while the majority of my posts incorporate the term, Broken Man. Some who read my posts will be unfamiliar with the full context of what I am saying
So, on another site, Michael said; “I agree with this statement of yours. It sounds real and true….
“We can assume that her attempt to paint the image would be very childlike in effect a distorted/broken reflection of the vision she saw. This reflection is a self-reflection of herself but also a reflection of all of us before God, that is one of been flawed and sinful.”

Questions asked by Michael:
—Where did you find out about the existence of the distorted/broken image, where can one be located?
—Is Faustina really a saint in your opinion?
—Why would the Church try to misrepresent her?
—All of this undermines the credibility of the Church even further don’t you think?

My response to Michael;
Initially, the information given to the laity in the late nineties stated
“At first, she tried to paint/sketch it herself, she was no artist and failed after man trials (Attempts), someone was found who could and did paint it”
As with all insightful information of this nature relating to such occurrences, it is fair to assume that these attempts with many of her personal possessions would be kept by her religious order.
“Is Faustina really a Saint in your opinion?”
She was uneducated coming from a very poor family with only three years’ very basic education. She was very innocent and trusting we can deduce this because after her first vision she immediately attempted to paint Jesus herself and for this reason, I believe her vision was genuine and received in total trust. This simple trust is often seen in many of our saints.
“Why would the Church try to misrepresent her?”
The Divine Mercy Devotion was disapproved TWICE, under TWO different Pontificates”
As initially, Pius XII put her writings on the Index of Prohibited Books also it has been said that her writings would still be gathering dust in a Vatican Archive, where Pope John XXIII sent them, if she were not Polish. I can only assume that they knew that God’s Word (Will) is inviolate and that they would have had to accept her original distorted picture in its simplicity and then venerate it throughout the whole church, this creates many problems in relation to how the church perceives herself in relationship to the forgiveness of sin (The Sacrament of absolution) also it includes the self-image of the priesthood.
“All of this undermines the credibility of the Church even further don’t you think?”
Yes and no as the revelation given to Sister Faustina calls for the leadership of the Church to give account for themselves before God and mankind if this were to happen these words by her would be fulfilled.
“The time will come when this work, which God so commands (will be) as though in complete ruin, and suddenly the action of God will come upon the scene with great power which will bear witness to the truth. It will be as a new splendor for the church, though it has been dormant in it from long ago”
My Posts above with links, pose this question to the elite within the Church (and all of us).
Is an act of humility too much to ask?
While all simple hearts know that when looked upon honestly this flawed/broken image is a self-reflection, immediate and self-evident of Sr Faustina's heart before God, as it corresponds with the internal reality of all of us. The pray that should be incorporated into the said image is
"Jesus I Trust in Thee"
kevin your brother
In Christ


Kevin Walters | 09 December 2021  

I think the professional priesthood can break you. Parts of the North and the Midlands are now in permanent, post-industrial decline and are really The Land God Seems To Have Forgotten. These places need a Bob Maguire. Sadly, there are fewer of them than there are Fr Kerrigans.


Edward Fido | 10 December 2021  
Show Responses

Looks like it can also be rented on Apple:
https://tv.apple.com/au/show/broken/umc.cmc.1q33kdg0unjk2ub8421pa9mvy


Paul Mitchell | 13 December 2021  

I don't have and can't afford STAN. However, I would love to see "broken." Is it streamed on any other platform?


Roy Case | 10 December 2021  

‘Bread blessed, broken and given for others’. I first read that phrase about the Eucharist in a book of Henri Nouwen. ‘Broken’ sounds so truthful, therefore hopeful. I’ll swap Netflix for Stan. I’ll be watching it.


Seymour Joan | 10 December 2021  
Show Responses

Well remembered and posted, splendid 'Seymour Joan' ;). You magnificently reprise the complex human tensions and contradictions that test, expand and gift us all, (except for those who'd rather hide from, are blind to, or reject the gift of complexity and paradox that lies within us all). Nouwen was, among many other blessed and gifted things, as well as by self-admission, a gay man, the humanity of whose work was eminently accessible precisely because of his own life's experience, as he beautifully describes it, rather than in spite of it.


Michael Furtado | 27 December 2021  


Will Jimmy McGovern’s word return to him void?


roy chen yee | 12 December 2021  

Unfortunately Paul I dont have Stan, but your analysis is appreciated. I loved the series Grantchester which alas channel 9 no longer airs.
"Grantchester is a British ITV detective drama, set in the 1950s Cambridgeshire village of the same name. The show first featured Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton), and subsequently vicar William Davenport (Tom Brittney), both of whom develop a sideline in sleuthing with the help of Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green). The series is based on The Grantchester Mysteries, collections of short stories written by James Runcie.
Unfortunately 9 took it off the air when James Norton, the sexually liberated vicar, left the show.
I sincerely wish channel 9 would resume broadcast of the series.


Francis Armstrong | 13 December 2021  

Cambridge is a long way from the deprived and desolate North, Francis Armstrong. Sidney Chambers is a Cambridge graduate and ex-Scots Guards officer. Grantchester, immortalised by Rupert Brooke, is one of the wealthiest areas in England. Nothing could be more different from Fr Kerrigan and his parish, which is akin to that in that appalling film 'Priest'. Perhaps Kevin Walters should realise the difference between reality and fiction. There is good Catholic fiction, which bears a close resemblance to reality and which is worth talking about. 'Brideshead Revisited', both the novel and the original TV series, starring Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews is such. It is about redemption.


Edward Fido | 13 December 2021  
Show Responses

Edward if we look at the sickening reality of abuse in Italy, Argentina, Australia how could anyone in their right mind regard that as potential entertainment even if it were fictionalised like "Sleepers"?
How would you cast Ridsdale, or Mulkearns? Rush? Or even Hollingworth with his evil buddy Kiss?
Who would you cast as the 13 boys who suicided at St Alipius? Or as Pell who dismissed the complaints as patent rubbish?
I watch TV to be entertained, not vomit. There is a lot more to the saga of abuse in Australia yet to be revealed and one forthcoming case in Tsv will turn your hair white.
Brideshead Revisited is set in a family of privilege - a bit like Churchill's Benheim- upper class twits who never did a days work spoke with an aristocratic nasal English drawl and wallowed in self indulgence. Far too much naval gazing.
Give me Grantchester any day.


Francis Armstrong | 16 December 2021  

Well, this article drew another long sermonette from Kevin Walters. I find them a little over the top: a bit like street corner evangelism. Rather 'Catholic tragic'. Christianity, at its core is not tragic, it's glorious because of the Resurrection. That's something which doesn't feature much in contemporary Catholicism, so weighed down with problems, such as the still ongoing paedophilia crisis. Read Dickens 'A Christmas Carol' it's full of joy about one man's redemption in life. Dickens wasn't Catholic. But then writers like Belloc and Chesterton were and they weren't morbid. Jimmy McGovern is, of course, Catholic. His shows are not happy ones. Of course there's a sad side to life, but not all life is sad. Far, far better than 'Broken' IMHO is the wonderful show 'Rev' which was written in consultation with Church of England clergy and praised by them as being realistic. It certainly was like the life of an Anglo-Catholic parish my wife and I attended in Inner Western Sydney for years. It starred Tom Hollander and Olivia Colman as a vicar and his wife in Inner London. Many of the parishioners were hopeless, dependent cases. What saved the vicar was his agnostic, no nonsense solicitor wife. It makes me feel nostalgic for the faith of my English Anglican clerical ancestors. They believed and lived their beliefs. Their wives were probably like the one played by Olivia Colman. Memories of 'Rev' make me look forward to a Christmas as epitomised in 'Joy to the World'.


Edward Fido | 15 December 2021  
Show Responses

Yes and no, Edward. For my early and underprivileged years in Co. Durham, in a town where half the men were miners and the others shipyard workers, I noted a vibrant Catholicism, just as Paul Mitchell beautifully describes it. For the first time in my life I encountered a real people, unlike the gilded Catholicism I'd grown up with in India. My three years at Oxford brought me no closer to Catholicism, except for a largely artificial one on show at the Newman Chaplaincy. Thence to teacher work in a housing estate in Glasgow where I again encountered the Broken Priest phenomenon that Paul describes so 'as-it-is-edly'. Waugh does not touch this brokenness except in the eloquence of a rather stultified world that 'Let's-pretend- we-never-lost-the-Reformation' English-types played at belonging. Graham Green does it much better in 'The Power & the Glory'. I agree with you that 'Rev' brought out this humanity beautifully which shows us that these existential questions cannot be contained within Catholicism (although probably best portrayed within it) but are universal Christ accounts common to the experience of those of all faiths and none. Consequently, 'Priest' was a fine film! Just look around at who shares this manger!


Michael Furtado | 16 December 2021  

PS. Ed, you probably know that the marvelous Olivia Coleman had an indigenous grandmother from Darjeeling. It showed in the way she provided loving though jaded spousal support for the equally human and Christ-portraying Tom Hollander in 'Rev'. Our clergy need this! I wish you well straying towards the sublime spirituality of celestial Orthodoxy (And what's wrong with having a foot in both camps?) but would greatly miss your impact on our shared Australian Catholicism. I saw a glimpse of this once in +Benno's face when, visiting Blighty in 2010. He appeared appreciative but tired by the generous yet overwhelming pomp and circumstance of his ecumenical reception at the Abbey and let his hair down at the entrance to Bentley's unfinished and relatively mundane and proletarian Westminster Cathedral where the hoi polloi broke into his German reserve and he could beam and respond amidst his own. I want you know that you are part of that ineffable Catholic rat-baggery that makes us so infuriatingly critical, but also loving and inclusive, if sometimes a bit infuriatingly argumentative. If I could sing to you, I'd warble G & S' 'Don't Go' from 'Pirates'. A Happy New Year to You & Mrs F!


Michael Furtado | 31 December 2021  

I can't stay long Edward - still attending to other matters - but you (and Michael) might be interested in some of the works of Ada Cambridge, whose husband was an Anglo-Catholic clergyman in Victoria in the late 19th early 20th century. She certainly had a view of religiosity that probably wasn't shared by her clerical partner. Some of her poetry can be accessed on the Australian Digital Collections part of the University of Sydney website. This one, titled 'Ordained', is an good example: < https://adc.library.usyd.edu.au/view?docId=ozlit/xml-main-texts/v00026.xml;chunk.id=d1654e6319;toc.depth=1;toc.id=;database=;collection=;brand=default >.


Ginger Meggs | 08 January 2022  

Great thanks, Ginger, for attending to my ignorance. Ada Cambridge's poem adds a whole new dimension to the life of a priest. I imagine she kept her husband beautifully grounded as well as honest. Yet another excellent case in favour of a married clergy!


Michael Furtado | 11 January 2022  

All dragging down on emotions ......we should be strong in the Spirit and march forward not look for others revelations.


Lynne Newington | 15 January 2022  

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