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caption Jimmy says he
sits down to write for eight hours a day but “sometimes I don’t
write a word”
It’s another hard-hitting drama from one of Britain’s most
respected writers: Jimmy McGovern’s new six-part series Broken
(BBC One) follows a maverick priest, played by Sean Bean, as he
tries to help his troubled flock in a working class northern
We spoke to McGovern – whose catalogue of work includes
Cracker, The Street, The Accused and Hillsborough – about his
complex relationship with Catholicism, the writing process and
what he really thinks about Sean Bean.
Where do you write your scripts?
In a hut. I spent £30,000 on a hut thinking it was all tax-free
but you can’t claim on a writer’s hut – I only found out when I
handed the receipts in! They said I should have put it on
It’s an emotional watch – what was it like to write?
Words are rungs on an emotional ladder. I’ve been in floods
[writing this]. You can’t expect an actor to cry unless you cry
There’s a scene where a footballer has to be substituted after
a player is chased off the pitch by three men wielding guns.
That was based on a true story heard from a priest – he had to
revitalise a football team and that was one of the things that
Image caption McGovern says Bean is “full of
It’s not about “broken Britain”.
Broken Britain? That was the last thing on my mind. It’s about
broken humanity. It’s about broken people. But you’re at your
most powerful when you’re at your weakest. There is still a
sense of community and strength.
On working with Sean Bean again (who won an international Emmy
for his role in The Accused).
Sean Bean was my wildest dream. He’s a great actor, one of our
finest actors ever. But the penalty of getting Sean Bean is
you’ve got to make use of Sean Bean! (They ended up building
the script around him).
Sean’s big worry was he was being passive at times, like in the
confessional scenes. The confessional is not passive though –
the penitent goes in there in despair, the priest takes it all
on and the penitent goes out a bit lighter. [The priest] is
taking on the the sin and easing the burden. The best priests
keep their mouth shut and their ears open.
On his experience of Catholicism as a child.
Image copyright PA Image caption Anna Friel also stars in Broken – she has
worked with McGovern before on The Street
Catholic teaching in the the 1950s and 1960s was harmful. It’s
a faith that teaches you that the only decent woman that ever
lived was the Virgin Mary, who never had sex with a man – then
it tells you to go forth and multiply, when everything you’ve
been told is that sex is filthy. As a teenager, you’re
tortured, it’s horrendous.
And the only thing worse than being a practising heterosexual
in a Catholic church is to be a practising homosexual. They
just throw up their hands in horror. It [the Catholic Church]
sent out twisted people like me. Absolutely twisted. We were
totally screwed up.
Anybody who went to a Catholic school in the late 50s/early 60s
had direct experience of perverts and paedophiles. I had one
and I named him and everybody knew who he was.
His life could have taken a very different turn.
I did feel I was called [to the priesthood] at one point, I
seriously considered it… but I’d have been a terrible priest.
McGovern’s not a fan of pomp and ceremony in church.
The gowns in the upper chamber? What’s that got to do with a
skint, poverty-stricken man in rags dying on a cross? It’s
Liverpudlian priests rock.
We have the best priests in Liverpool, the best in the world.
It’s not bells and smells, it’s getting down and dirty with the
people, caring for alcoholics, the poor, the destitute, the
homeless, fighting against bureaucracy and hypocrisy.
We MIGHT get another series.
Series two? I think Sean wants to move on but I’m hoping the
BBC will agree to allow me to do another thing about a priest,
i.e. Broken 2. We’ll see.
Episode one of Broken airs on BBC One at 9pm on Tuesday 23