From The Hour and The Iron lady to Suffragette and River: Abi Morgan’s remarkable career

The veteran screenwriter looks back on her career as Stellan Skarsgard's Detective John River hits screens

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Abi Morgan, a leading member of what she calls “a sort of weird ladies club” of British female television writers, is delightfully modest. Despite her impressive credentials as a playwright, feature film and television writer (her work has been recognised with a Bafta for Sex Traffic and an Emmy for The Hour), she describes most of her female peers as gods or goddesses in “I’m not worthy” tones.

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Her reputation is built partly on her willingness to embrace gritty, uncomfortable subjects – from her 2002 drama Murder, starring Julie Walters as the mother of a son who has been murdered, to the award-winning Sex Traffic – about two eastern European women forced into prostitution – two years later. Her 2006 HBO mini-series Tsunami, the Aftermath focused on a group of people in Thailand trying to cope in the days after the disaster struck on Boxing Day 2004. But she has also been entrusted with big adaptations of much-loved novels (Brick Lane and Birdsong), as well as major feature films – Shame, The Iron Lady and Suffragette, which has just opened in the UK.

What makes Morgan so brilliant as a writer is her ability to take important global issues and suffuse them with a warmth and humanity that make it impossible not to feel connected to the characters, and therefore make you care about the issues explored in a direct way.

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We talk about extensions (house, leg and hair – she has only done the former and the latter, for glamorous occasions), and being photographed on the red carpet. She has experienced a fair bit of this and it makes her uncomfortable. “There’s that inevitable moment where the photographer is going, ‘Lovely, lovely,’” She bats her hand in a parody of a dismissive gesture and says, “‘Could we just have the actors now?’”

This reminds her of a photograph that was taken at her first premiere for her film adaptation of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane in 2007. “It’s a classic photo of me holding a pile of coats, looking on as the producer, director and actors have their picture taken. And I always feel a bit as though I’m standing holding the coats.”

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Would she prefer to be completely invisible then? “No – my ego’s too big! But, equally, when I’ve done an interview, I always come away feeling like I’ve got slightly drunk at a party and said too much. It’s always the next day, that slight feeling of, ‘God, I said that terrible thing!’”