Monday, July 20, 2009

Samantha Morton's Lost Childhood

"Between the ages of 14 and 16 I was in a very dark place and then came out of it." That's Samantha Morton, talking to Simon Hattentone about her painful childhood and early adolescence, and about the new movie--The Unloved, her directorial debut--that grew out of it. The movie is about a little girl, called Lucy, who comes from a violent home environment and has been placed in a car home. As a director, Morton wanted to capture the quality of detachment that some abused children have towards what's being done to them" "You read a lot about this in psychology, how children almost astral project. They throw themselves out of their body and it's almost bordering on the autistic spectrum. They are spectators of their reality. They are quite numb." Not that Morton had to get all this from her reading. She was made a ward of the court when she was eight years old; her father used to hit her. Although The Unloved is autobiographical in its emotions, Morton says that the life it depicts is far less awful than some of the things she experienced, because "I'm not going to make a children's film and turn it into a horror film. I wanted to make a film that someone from the age of 13 could watch and get, and it would change them."

Morton, who's 31, and the mother of two daughters, began storyboarding the movie when she was 16, almost half her life ago. At the time, Hattentone writes, she "was living in a hostel for the homeless when she read an article about a young prostitute in Nottingham and realised this was somebody she had known in care. Years later, she read about two other girls she'd known who had also become prostitutes and had been murdered. The reports had a huge impact on her. She wanted to tell their stories, and her own story, and create something fictional, all at the same time." This was also the time when Morton was beginning her own acting career, with a series of roles--on TV in Cracker and the miniseries Band of Gold, in her first starring movie role in Under the Skin--that now seem like they must have been awfully close to the knuckle. (She played more than one teen prostitute.) Morton, who says she came "Massively. Completely. Massively," close to destroying her own life as a child, recalls that, before leaving school for good at 13, she went to a good one but "the houses on that road are million-pound ones, yet I was living in a children's home two buses away, where I was up most nights because of riots or sharing a room with a prostitute. You can't get your homework done and you fall behind."

Morton tinkered with the script herself long enough to decide that she's not a screenwriter. The Unloved was finally turned into a screenplay by Tony Grisoni. She has no plans to direct again; rather, she sees this as something that she had in her system for a long time and to which she has finally been able to give expressive form. She wouldn't mind if it can be helpful to any children who see it, but she's not interested in using at a bill of indictment against anyone--at least, Never, never my parents. Always authority. Always the establishment. That's because I grew up in Nottinghamshire in the 80s with Margaret Thatcher destroying everything." The movie may not be high on Thatcher's to-see list, but Morton's family has checked it out. "There are a lot of similarities between me and Lucy, but my mum and my dad and my eight brothers and sisters can all watch the film and go, 'We know that's not our story, but we get why she's done it.'"

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