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.
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.
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.”
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!’”