I watched Episode 1 of Jimmy McGovern’s series Broken. It was meant to be on last Tuesday, but because of the Manchester bombing was held over for a week. I’m a fan of Jimmy McGovern. His dramas are usually about working-class people that are broken, in some way, and have to find a way forward. A sympathetic portrayal, and counterpoint to the propaganda from sources such as the Daily-Hate-Mail and Channel 4 and 5’s programmes with tag lines ‘Welfare’. McGovern runs his own production company and is pretty much guaranteed a prime-time slot, like last night, when he sells his work to the BBC.
Using the motif Broken there are a couple of narrative strands up and running. The lead is easiest to identify. Christina Fitzsimons’s (Anna Friel) life is shit. She has three young kids, no partner and no money. McGovern follows a simple dramatic rule (which I often use myself) when thing are bad, make them much worse. So in the first scene Christina’s phone is ringing, even though she’s in chapel, a meeting before her daughter makes her first holy communion (or for the Catholics among us, First Holy Communion).
Ironically, I’m going to a First Holy Communion this Sunday. The usual jokes about the chapel falling down apply. But here, down-to-earth and salt-of-the-earth Father Michael Kerrigan (Sean Bean) who is trying to work miracles in a working-class, Northern town, where everybody is skint rubs one of his parishioners up the wrong way by suggesting, to save money, First Communicants didn’t try to outdo each other with bridal-type dresses and fancy suits and should simply wear their school uniforms. But the world doesn’t work that way, not even in skint Northern towns. Little girls like to dress up and their mum’s like to show off they’ve got the dosh for a big spread.
Here’s the second narrative thread. Father Michael has doubts and somehow they’re related to his dying mum. He has flashbacks and there are reference points to Kes that coming-of-age, Northern, drama based on Barry Hine’s book A Kestrel for a Knave. I’ve read the book and seen the film but can’t remember nowt about it, apart from it’s a about a bird, probably a Kestrel. And there’s lots of kids getting smacked about the head at school and getting the belt. Father Michael relives the same experiences in flashback and there’s something about his mum, he doesn’t want us to know. He’s a priest, probably that old chestnut, a promise to his mother that he’s felt duty bound to keep.
So let the dominoes fall. Christina’s extended meeting about white, wedding-type dresses for eight-year-old girls means she’s late for work. Her boss isn’t happy. She’s a Catholic too, but she’s a boss, which means she’s nasty, pays the minimum wage and sacks Christina for being late and leaving an IOU in the till for £60, which she wasn’t supposed to see. They get into a fight. Christina goes home with a burst lip and is sacked. She promises her wee girl that white dress. But then she goes to the buroo. I can see what McGovern is trying to do here. Christina is telling the supercilious DSS worker that she’s worked all her life, never took a penny even though her partner was a shit and didn’t pay a penny for their kids and you know the rest…Barred for 18 weeks from all benefits because she intentionally made herself unemployed.
Good drama, but that’s not the way it works. Benefit claimants such as Christina don’t get to meet a real live ex-Chancellor George Osborne type figure that rejoices in telling them they’re scum and deserve everything they get which is nothing and did they ever consider foodbanks for starving children? No. These things are all done by phone. The equivalent of drone strikes and unsuspecting targets whose lives are changed forever. It’s not good on the screen, and that’s why we don’t have it here.
The other big dramatic moment was Christina’s mum dying suddenly. She’s clutching the phone, trying to phone the priest and book a place in the heavenly choir. Christina tries to hide her mum’s death so she can cash her pension. She does the latter and phones the priest three days later. He immediately says she’s been dead for a couple of days and you’ve probably hidden the fact to cash her pension. Wow, he’s good. A direct line from Peter Falk’s Columbo, up above. I know somebody that did that, but they didn’t need to keep their mum hidden under the sheets. They just needed to keep cashing the book – until they get caught – as Christina is and will be. The domino effect. Make it worse. I’ll probably not watch the other episodes. I know what is going to happen. Things are going to get bad, so bad the Tories are going to call an election and win by a landslide. They’ll probably lock up people that don’t vote Tory. People like McGovern and Christina. I’m all broke up about that. I don’t mind telling you. Fuck the Tory scum. Anyone that votes Tory will surely go to hell. That’s the way I see things, but god might be more understanding, but I doubt it, eye of the needle and camel and all that… I’m going to pray on Sunday not to hate Tories so much.