‘Shame’ Screenwriter Abi Morgan Talks Ralph Fiennes’ ‘Invisible Woman’ Project, Joe Wright’s ‘Little Mermaid, ‘Suffragettes’ & More

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by Jen Vineyard
December 17, 2011 9:30 AM
4 Comments
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Three of screenwriter Abi Morgan's projects were honored by Golden Globe nominations Thursday -- the first season of her much-acclaimed BBC miniseries "The Hour," as well as the lead actors from her films "Shame" and "The Iron Lady," Michael Fassbender and Meryl Streep. And Morgan is already hard at work on her next round of projects, including the second season of "The Hour," which is in the middle of shooting now.

"It's amazing for us with 'The Hour,' because it's such a small audience, but it seems to have had a great effect," Morgan told The Playlist.

Season two will jump ahead 10 months to 1957, when Hector Madden (Dominic West), Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), and Freddie Lyons (Ben Whishaw) find themselves covering the Cold War, the space race, and race relations with a new boss, Randall Brown, played by Peter Capaldi ("In the Loop"). "They need a new head of news, since Clarence is gone," Morgan said. "You can't have a spy running the news, as much as I loved Anton Lesser as an actor. We had to let him go. But Peter is terrific."

Thanks to all her time spent on "The Iron Lady," Morgan is hoping to slip a mention of a young Margaret Thatcher on the show. "I keep thinking, how am I going to weave her in?" she said. "We'll have to reference her at some point. I'll get her in somewhere."

Following the second season of "The Hour," Morgan will then devote her attentions for "the first half of next year" to Ralph Fiennes' next directorial effort, "The Invisible Woman," starring Fiennes as Charles Dickens and Felicity Jones as his longtime mistress, the actress Nelly Ternan. To avoid scandal, Ternan often "disappeared," removing herself from the public so the novelist could be seen as a family-values man. During these moments, she sometimes constructed double identities for herself, pretending to have different backgrounds, histories and ages.

"Ralph's really an inspiration to work with," Morgan said. "We're very excited about this one."

Based on the book by Claire Tomalin, Morgan's script is still being "tweaked" and "honed," with the goal to have the film out in 2012, the year of Dickens' 200th birthday. "That's the year," she said, noting the coinciding "Great Expectations" film (in which Fiennes plays Magwitch) and "Mister Pip" (in which Hugh Laurie reads children "Great Expectations"). "There you go."

Morgan's also just turned in a draft of a script for "The Little Mermaid" for director Joe Wright, which is back on track despite his talk of possible delays. Morgan promises their version will not be influenced by the Disney version whatsoever -- in fact, she hasn't seen it. "We're going the much more traditional route," she said. "It's so beautiful and exquisite and painful, so we absolutely have to have the original ending," versus the makeshift happy ending Disney provided, with the mermaid and the prince falling in love. In the original tale, which is more of a tragedy, the mermaid is told if she fails in her quest to win the prince's love, if she wants her tail back, she has to kill him the first morning after he marries another. Unable to kill him after his wedding night, she throws herself into the sea where she dissolves into the foam.

"There are so many ways to interpret that ending, with her going into the foam," Morgan said. "What does it mean? Is she giving up her life for him? That's what's so powerful about it. It's the perfect teenage love story."

Still on Morgan's desk to finish over the holidays is a script for "Suffragettes," to be directed by Sarah Gavron ("Brick Lane")."It's set in 1912, and it's about a beautiful and militant group of women who are very much placed in the context of history," Morgan said. "Our key character who leads us through the story is named Maude, and I'm playing with her age right now to see who she should be."

As she finishes and tweaks her scripts for future projects, Morgan looks back fondly on her Steve McQueen team-up for "Shame," since there were about 60 pages from the first draft that didn't make the film, including Brandon's sex addiction therapy group.

"There was a much longer build-up to seeing the sort of eventual catalyst and more of a sense of the characters in that world," Morgan said. "Partly, we were wondering if this was going to be a literal story of redemption. Did we need to wrap it up in that way? Did we need to know where he came from? And then it became about finding this man on the edge, with the intention of not going to that group as the starting point. There were so many drafts that I would love to go back and read those 60 pages, because it's interesting to watch as a progression of a screenplay."

"Whether you're doing a film about sex addiction, or a TV series set in the '50s, or a film about a political leader who's so reviled and revered, what one is looking for is the story," she added. "There's the understanding of a man who is so bent on self destruction, or the blending of the personal and the political with Margaret Thatcher, or the collective office and personal lives of journalists against a historical background. All of them put the macro and the micro together."

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4 Comments

  • Eliza | December 21, 2011 4:34 PMReply

    I thought Ralph Fiennes was definitely NOT going to play Dickens in "The Invisible Woman." Has it been announced otherwise??

  • Rania | December 19, 2011 10:11 AMReply

    After I submitted my Top Ten to Indiewire, I realized I hadn't added to the comments section that THE HOUR was beyond a shadow of a doubt the best thing I watched on (the small) screen in 2011. I saw it 3 times. If you think the script is mediocre, you need to see it again. It is significant, thrilling, sexy, etc.

  • Sean | December 18, 2011 3:07 AMReply

    The Hour is scriptwriting at its absolute BEST - intelligent, truthful, snappy. Her success speaks for itself.

  • ver | December 17, 2011 12:31 PMReply

    I really wish this woman would focus on quality over quantity. Her scripts are the weakest parts of every project she's involved with. The Hour is mediocre at best, has awful characterization and a convoluted, unengaging plot. The "praise" stems from its cast. Praying she stays away from Joe Wright's The Little Mermaid.

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