Although Morley has made numerous short films, it’s two of her long-form movies that made her name. The first, The Alcohol Years, was a documentary about herself between the ages of 16 and 21, when she was mostly drunk and hanging out in Manchester nightclub the Haçienda.
I’m a year younger than Carol (49) and also from Manchester, and I spent a lot of time at the Haçienda when she did. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when I interviewed her about The Alcohol Years in 2000, we got very drunk.
“I’ve still got the coffee pot I nicked from Pizza Express!” she says, triumphant. “But I blacked out after that.” I can’t remember much about our encounter, either (we went to Pizza Express?), other than Morley was clever and up for an adventure. Ideal qualities for a director, really.
We discuss Manchester during those years and Morley points out that “everyone was going to do something: be in a band or be a writer or something”. Her brother Paul, nine years her senior, did just that: he became a star writer for the NME and she, back home in Stockport, poured over his words, marvelled at his by-line.
Her own route away was more rambling. After working low-level jobs, she got into Central Saint Martins to study film. Making The Alcohol Years taught her how to “make sense out of a mess… without ironing out contradictions”. That approach helped her to make Dreams of a Life, about Joyce Vincent, a woman who died in her bedsit and who wasn’t found for three years.
“I felt because I’d looked at my own life, it gave me permission to look at Joyce’s. If you always look at other people and you’re not prepared to look at yourself, it’s a bit of a problem.”
Morley remembers that her family had four encyclopedias, and that when she read them, years after her elder siblings had finished with them, all the pictures had been cut out for school projects. “I wonder if I’m just trying to fill in the pictures?” she says, slightly joking, before moving on to a more serious childhood loss. Morley’s father committed suicide when she was 11.
“Looking back, my becoming a filmmaker is probably to do with my dad killing himself,” she says. “When you’re that age, you’re not quite ready to tackle the meaning of life, but suddenly you have to. You have to grapple with those themes. It’s why I’m interested in dark subjects. But I want to tell those stories not in a way you’d want to kill yourself.
“If someone goes like that, you’re always trying to get them back in a way. Not them, but the relationship. The missing-ness of it. That’s why I love film-making. It’s a second chance at telling a story, a second chance at life.”
The Falling is in UK cinemas from Friday April 24th