AS AN instrument of recruitment to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, it is unclear whether Broken (BBC1, Tuesday of last week) will receive an imprimatur.
This slice of impoverished northern life is so raw as to affect digestion: apparently, on being summoned to give the last rites to a member of the congregation whose corpse indicates several days since her actual death, it is standard clergy practice to ask the next of kin when her last pension was collected, since it is a recognised practice to suppress the news of decease until the next instalment has been gathered from the post office.
Perhaps the key target is the effect of grinding poverty, and the impossibility, for a single mother, of bringing up three children decently in the face of the punishment meted out by our current benefits system. Doing his best to fight against it is Fr Michael Kerrigan (Sean Bean), but he is beset by his own demons: the pre-Vatican II violence he faced as a child from priests and parents; his faith in a loving God the undermining of the pain and suffering on every side.
Christina (geddit?), the single mother tipping on the edge of despair, played movingly by Anna Friel, is not quite pinched, haunted, or brash enough for someone ground down. But, despite the doubts, this is a drama that takes seriously the Church and her sacraments; so perhaps it will encourage viewers to think that there is something real going on here, to which they might sign up.
One of Fr Michael’s doomed attempts to effect change, and one of the reasons that Christina hides her mother’s body for three days until she can collect the pension, is over the vexed matter of the first communion: the poor indebting themselves for years to kit out their daughters in the expected finery. It was bad timing, then, that one of the segments of Songs of Praise (BBC1, Sunday), built around a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Liverpool’s RC cathedral, featured nine-year-old Gracie’s delight in being embellished for her first communion with all the trimmings: veil, hairdo, quasi-wedding dress.
Another Liverpudlian jubilee was commemorated in Sgt Pepper’s Musical Revolution: With Howard Goodall (BBC2, Saturday). Fifty years on, our guide demonstrated decisively just how ground-breaking the disc was, and how multi-layered it was in terms of the musical sources it reworked, and in its technical innovation.
Goodall convinced us of the Fab Four’s seriousness as creative musicians: driven from live performance because of the noise of the fans, they worked for five months to add layer after layer of music that encompassed classical Indian, music-hall, jazz, and rock.
The most curious aspect of its evolution, though, is how it is shot through with nostalgia: a longing to return to the innocence of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, to the seaside pier, the circus, and, perhaps, to the church fête where John and Paul first met.