Hundreds of people turned out to St Francis Xavier in Liverpool, known as SFX, to hear writer Jimmy McGovern, who grew up in the parish, answer questions about his award-winning BBC1 drama Broken.
Parish priest Fr Denis Blackledge SJ, who hosted the session, was an adviser on the series, parts of which were filmed in SFX.
McGovern told the packed church that the series did not refer to a “broken” society, as many assume, but to the broken body of Christ on the Cross, and the breaking of bread in the Mass.
The two sessions, which took place last Friday and Saturday as part of the parallel programme of the Adoremus national eucharistic pilgrimage and congress, followed the screening in the church of an episode from the six-part drama.
McGovern is not a practising Catholic but during filming told Fr Denis that the drama, starring Sean Bean as Fr Michael Kerrigan, was “all about the Eucharist”.
Afterward Fr Denis, now aged 75 and parish priest at SFX since Easter 2016, told The Tablet he had been asked to explain what it had felt like, being a priest for more than 40 years.
“I said, it starts in your gut. It goes through your heart. You deal with your own stuff. Then hopefully you are fit to be alongside other people and deal with theirs.”
He said that as he taught “priestcraft” to Sean Bean, he watched him “grow into the collar” during filming. He made sure every aspect of the liturgy, ritual and other aspects of church life were reflected with faithful accuracy, down to having the correct readings open in the Missal. He was also able to advise on how he should make the sign of the cross, and how Catholics say the rosary and other small but important details of parish and Catholic life.
The Sunday before filming had begun, Sean Bean had turned up for Mass and went for coffee with everyone else after the service. Throughout filming, Fr Blackledge would be working in his office, where Sean Bean or others would often turn up asking for advice on details in the latest scene.
The resulting close attention to detail, along with the quality of the writing, was among the features which gave the drama its strong sense of authenticity, helping it win a Sandford St Martin award for religious broadcasting earlier this year.
During filming, McGovern had specifically asked Fr Blackledge for help with the liturgy. McGovern told the priest: “I don’t want people writing to The Tablet. We have got to get it right.”