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Broken: A profound study of Christianity and the priesthood

  • 09 December 2021
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