Abi Morgan is writer, creator and director of BBC drama The Split, from Sister. The final series in the trilogy airs next week. Season three has seen Morgan make her directorial debut. And for this final series she has shot two endings and is yet to decide which one will go on the cutting room floor.
Here is a Q and A with Morgan on The Split, from the BBC.
You always imagined The Split as a trilogy, but now that it’s here, how does it feel to wrap up the story?
I think it’s like the end of any good relationship, it’s conflicted! I feel really happy and proud and excited to be showing this final series. I always intended it to be this three-arc structure, that was about the legacy of a marital split that permeates Hannah’s life, and then that triggers her own split within her own relationship, and then subsequent split in her marriage. Now it comes to it though, the hardest thing is letting go of the characters and the alchemy of that collaboration of actors. They’re very inspiring to write for and Nicola (Walker) at the helm in the role of Hannah really sets the tone, so I feel really sad to let go of those characters!
In many ways I think there’s more story to be told, but because it’s a relationship drama, I mean how many times can Hannah get married and divorced?! I guess it came back to that really, which was that this was always about wanting to take the sting out of divorce and look at what it means in our modern society now, how one can survive and come through the other side, and can you have a good divorce? Ultimately this show, though it’s complex and conflicted at times, it’s about the fact that divorce is manageable and possible and shouldn’t be taboo or a sign of failure.
It’s still unusual to show a messy woman in her 40s on screen, was it important for you to show life in all its complexity for Hannah and also Ruth, her mother?
I wanted to do something that was cross-generational. We’ve tracked Hannah from her mid-40s to her early 50s and I was always interested in looking at the complexities of that; a woman who, at the point when her daughter Liv is just becoming a teenager and a young woman in her own right, embracing her own relationships and sexuality, is also a point when a woman (Hannah) is menopausal and dealing with all those issues of long-term relationships and career highs and lows.
Also the sense your children are leaving you and what comes after. Then through Ruth, Hannah’s mother, I love the idea of looking at a woman in her 70s who is still vivacious, attractive and in long-term employment – because people don’t retire in the same way as they used to, certainly not when you’ve got a vocational career like law. And then also to give Ruth a lovely, romantic story as I wanted to give the show a real sense of hope, that love doesn’t die at 50 and it’s not all over when you hit the menopause!
There’s a golden thread of shared love and support and DNA through the Defoe sisters as well with Nina and Rose, so that was something I was always drawn to.
What did you want to explore with the introduction of new character Kate (Lara Pulver)?
There’s a line later on in the series where someone says to Kate ‘you’re the change’. Kate appears as a professional colleague of Hannah’s, yet also comes into opposition with her personally, so that was lovely to play around with. I wanted to create a character who on one level you absolutely want to smack because she is so annoying, but then on another level she is so endearing and understandable and you could spin it and see life from Kate’s perspective, which is how terrifying to be introduced to this family dynamic!
Lara Pulver who plays Kate is such a mercurial actress; you think she’s one thing and then you give her a different scene and she spins it the other way. Watching Lara work, there are moments where you’re really rooting for Hannah, but then other moments where you totally understand where Kate is coming from.
You’re directing for the first time – why now and was it what you expected?
I’m 53 and coming through some big life changes. There have been various family illnesses and I also went through cancer just before we went into lockdown (in 2020). As a writer you are often alone, and it really hit me that I wouldn’t get that experience of being on set again, and certainly during Covid to justify being on that set, I thought, how can I get in and be with my actors and really spend time with them?
I’ve always been lucky with the directors I’ve worked with and I feel I’ve learnt a lot, but for the first time ever I felt I’ve got to see if I can understand how to make television from a different point of view. There probably isn’t a more nurturing or safer environment to try your first directing than within a show you know really well, and the only writer you can offend is yourself!
It was a revelation to me that it was so much fun. The thing that’s been most interesting is that I’d often sit in on edits as an executive producer, but I’d focus on the emotional heart of the writing. Now, to look at the show in such a technical way, that was so helpful and I have a new vocabulary of language. And I learnt not to write so many words! Write less because a lot will end up on the cutting room floor anyway and that’s a hell of a lot of time and money, so directing has changed the way I work.
We can tease that there’s a wedding to come in series three – was that inevitable in a series about divorce?
In every series the last episode has featured a wedding. In series two Tyler and Zander eloped so we gave them that great engagement party, but I wanted to end on a wedding here. This show is a collision of a family, at the best and worst of times and I always think weddings are the one thing you can go to where you can’t complain!
People go with such energy and joy, whether you believe in the ritual or not it brings together family and friends. Often it’s the collision of your professional and personal life and so dramatically that’s – thank you Richard Curtis – that’s why that world has been such a beautiful, rich environment to play with those different dynamics.
What inspired the big legal case for this series?
I guess I’ve been thinking much more about life and death in my life. I’m 53, I’ve been in a long-term relationship and the ‘what-ifs’ become more relevant. It used to be, ‘what if we have children’ and now it’s ‘what if one of us doesn’t survive?’ I wanted to ask those questions with a couple who’d had a long, strong marriage and were being challenged by something that’s very difficult to discuss and how you navigate endings from that point of change.
Was it hard to get the right ending for this final series?
Well, we’ve shot two endings! There was a lot of debate and a lot of discussion, and I think we’ll end up sharing (the other ending) eventually when we’ve decided which one we’re going for! The most important thing for us was to show Hannah in a place that was hopeful and powerful and that there was a level of optimism, if not anticipation and trepidation for the future. We wanted to play around with it for Hannah, what would be a happy ending? And I’m always thinking about the audience, and I hope that we’re giving an ending that is both realistic and romantic.
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