Entertainment & Arts

Jimmy McGovern: 'I cry when I write my scripts'

Jimmy McGovern Image copyright Getty Images
Image 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 town.

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 wheels!

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 writing it.

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 actually happened.

Image caption McGovern says Bean is "full of humanity"

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 ridiculous.

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 30 May.

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