Meet Sean Bean’s holy in­spi­ra­tion

Fa­ther De­nis Black­ledge on how he’s helped Sean Bean play a thor­oughly-mod­ern Catholic priest in Bro­ken

TV Times - - News - Bro­ken Tues­day / BBC1 / 9.00Pm Caren Clark

Ididn’t think I’d ever have “re­li­gious ad­viser to Sean Bean” on my CV,’ smiles Fa­ther De­nis Black­ledge as TV Times chats to him about the cru­cial role he’s played in bring­ing Jimmy Mcgovern’s gritty drama Bro­ken to the screen.

The BBC1 se­ries, which con­cludes this week, has seen Sean turn in a pow­er­house per­for­mance as Fa­ther Michael Ker­ri­gan, who has helped his parish­ioners face every­thing from sui­cide to ho­mo­pho­bia while deal­ing with hor­ri­fy­ing flash­backs to his own trau­matic past.

To pre­pare for the role, both Sean and Jimmy sought the ad­vice of Fa­ther De­nis, who is the parish priest at Liver­pool’s St Fran­cis Xavier church, which was used to film many of the scenes set at Fa­ther Michael’s fic­tional church, St Nick’s.

‘They wanted to use my church as it’s where Jimmy was brought up so I was just in the right place at the right time,’ says Fa­ther De­nis, 74.

‘Jimmy said to me, “I don’t want peo­ple writ­ing in say­ing we got things wrong” so I had to make sure they got the church stuff right with the cor­rect things on the al­tar and at mass and with the Eucharist and con­fes­sions. But they also wanted to get Fa­ther Michael’s bed­side man­ner right and his own bro­ken­ness so that he would fit in with other bro­ken peo­ple, so I just showed them what, to me, is the au­then­tic way of be­ing a priest.’

As we talk to the pas­sion­ate, forth­right and funny Fa­ther De­nis, it’s clear that Sean learned a lot from him and, in turn, Fa­ther De­nis can’t hide his pride at the way that his pro­tégé has set­tled into the role.

‘It was a de­light and a great priv­i­lege to work with Sean be­cause he is so easy to deal with and a good learner. He was ner­vous at first but that was good be­cause this is a big thing. He re­ally grew into the part, which was lovely,’ he says.

‘I wanted him to do it his own way but I told him what it feels like to be a priest, how it comes from your guts and goes through your heart. He also learned by watch­ing me, such as when he came to mass and picked up how I go among the peo­ple and don’t stay by the lectern.’

The fi­nale sees Fa­ther Michael’s prob­lems threaten to over­whelm him and he faces a big de­ci­sion about his fu­ture. Lan­cashire-born Fa­ther De­nis tells us that those very per­sonal dif­fi­cul­ties ac­cu­rately re­flect the chal­lenges he has faced in more than 40 years as a priest.

‘There have been a few times when I could’ve left but I’m still here,’ says the priest, who joined St Fran­cis Xavier 14 months ago. ‘I’ve had to make big, painful de­ci­sions in the past be­cause I’ve been in love and I’ve had to choose to give up the chance of a wife and kids. But any good priest goes through doubts. We’re or­di­nary blokes, not ex­tra­or­di­nary peo­ple. We have to deal with our own messi­ness.’

Fa­ther De­nis is cer­tain that Bro­ken will in­crease foot­fall in churches and he hopes that view­ers have gained a new in­sight into mod­ern Catholi­cism.

‘My parish­ioners think it’s ter­rific and when I watched the last scene of the fi­nale, I wept buck­ets and thought, “They’ve got it right about be­ing a priest at last”,’ he says.

‘I be­came a priest to help oth­ers and this is the first time in a long time that I’ve seen the de­pic­tion of a Catholic priest as a man who is true to God, true to him­self and true to other peo­ple. You have to get your hands dirty and do what you can for peo­ple. Those who tell peo­ple how to do things and want to be on a pedestal wouldn’t last five min­utes in my parish.’

I told Sean what it feels like to be a priest – it comes from your guts and through your heart

From left: Di­rec­tor Ash­ley Pearce, Fa­ther De­nis Black­ledge, Sean Bean, pro­ducer Colin Mckeown and Jimmy Mcgovern Fa­ther De­nis Black­ledge of St Fran­cis Xavier church

Sean Bean as Bro­ken’s

Fa­ther Michael Ker­ri­gan

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