Abi Morgan:Hella Mysterious, Badass Writer

Happy 2016 mystery lovers. Most of you will be familiar with Ms. Morgan because she’s an amazing play and screen writer, most recently of Suffragette which features an amazing cast (Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, and Helena Bonham Carter) and has received mixed reviews. I’ll be seeing it for sure because Morgan’s work is worth studying.

I caught wind of Morgan when I began viewing River on Netflix. It’s pretty magnificent, and unlike anything I’d seen in terms of a murder serial. Detective John Rivers (played by Stellan Skarsgard, the delectable Swedish actor) is shattered by the death of his partner Jackie Stevenson (portrayed magnificently by Nicola Walker). So much so that he’s literally haunted by her or a very vivid hallucination of her. He’s also haunted by the Lambeth Poisoner, who is righteously terrifying and terrible. What I found fascinating was the series’ willingness to address the complexity of grief, the manifestations of self, the fracturing that trauma can induce, how and why we go about trusting others, and how hard it is to not only trust others but to give ourselves over to love. Skarsgard is wonderful to watch, even when it is hard to do so. I’m not sure how I felt about the ending and I don’t want to spoil anything, but I wondered about hallucinations–can they be felt and imagined sensorially? Can you feel a hallucination’s breath on your cheek, weight in your arms, lips on yours?  For Detective John River’s sake, I sure hope so.

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In an interview with radiotimes.com’s Ginny Doughty, Morgan reveals River comes out of her twinned interests in London and mental health. She stated:

“I felt that writing this was a way to explore my own mental health. I talk to myself all the time [as River does] – it’s something my children have observed in the car. I’ll often have the argument with the person that I really want to say to their face.
“Occasionally, I’ve been on the tube and I’ve been thinking about something, and I’ll see someone looking at me, and I’ll think, ‘God! I’m talking out loud.’ And I realise that from anyone else’s perspective, I must look mad.
“I wanted to say, ‘In police departments, in hospitals, in newsrooms, in the banking industry, we have people who are dealing with emotional situations that fracture their minds and so that’s what made me start to write this.’”

Unbeknowst to me, I was already of fan of her work before ever viewing River and looking for writing credits. Prodded by the fact The Hour was leaving Acorn on December 19th, and it featured Dominic West of The Wire Jimmy McNulty fame, I devoured both seasons. While it has left Acorn, you can still find both seasons on Amazon. It’s so worth watching and revolves around the news room of a groundbreaking hourly show, a mystery (of course) that requires investigative reporting of a dangerous nature, intrigue, lust, loyalty, love, and witnessing and disseminating history as it unfolds. Think Murphy Brown with gorgeous accents and higher stakes and no laugh track. And Dominic West–well, you’ll love and hate him, he’s just that good. Morgan is hella good at writing strong characters, and while I hate to say it because I just shouldn’t have to–she’s hella good at writing strong female leads. I’ve got The Iron Lady in my watch list for viewing soon, but I’m a taking a breather and below, you’ll understand why.

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River and The Hour (which was cancelled after two seasons, though avid fans protested outside of the BBC) are like watching Singing in the Rain and Shame is like watching Dancer in the Dark. It’s filmed beautifully and the acting is some of the finest I’ve seen, period. I wish I had someone to talk about the film with, but it’s hard to say, “Hey. Watch Shame so we can speak candidly about how harrowing and utterly heartbreaking it is. Also, we can discuss the complexity of sex addiction and family disfunction, and what mysteries we are are, even to ourselves.” It’s been 48 hours folks, and I’m still feeling a bit wobbly about this film. I can’t get it out of my head, and it haunts, so I’m not sure I’m recommending this film, not for anyone looking for escape and entertainment. If you are looking for hard, thought-provoking and emotion twisting–then dive right in. Carey Mulligan is sublime and so effing sad.Michael Fassbender’s Brandon is tortured, and Fassbender’s performance is just so brave and full out. Morgan co-wrote this with director Steve McQueen, who is also just so bloody brilliant.

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I still have so much to read, watch, and learn from Morgan’s rich body of work. I’m excited to see what she imagines, creates, and writes in 2016 and beyond.


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