Culture: How Peter Morgan benefited from a dose of reality

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The Independent Online

If I was Philippa Lowthorpe, I might feel a bit hard done by. In 2003, she wrote and directed an acclaimed TV serial based on Philippa Gregory's historical novel about Henry VIII, yet when it came to the big-screen version she didn't get a look in. Instead, the job of adapting The Other Boleyn Girl went to Peter Morgan.

Morgan, 44, is the hottest screenwriter on the planet right now. His projects in the pipeline include the third part of the trilogy that began with The Deal; an adaptation of David Peace's fictionalised autobiography of Brian Clough; and the film version of the BBC thriller State of Play. He is also the author of Frost/Nixon, an award-winning play about David Frost's interview with Richard Nixon that was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The competition for the movie rights to Frost/Nixon was so fierce that his agents even managed to secure him a percentage of the box-office receipts – almost unheard of for a writer.

How did he find himself in this enviable position? One reason is that he either wrote or co-wrote the screenplays that netted Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker their Oscars last year. That makes him very attractive to producers, since an Academy Award is guaranteed to lure A-list actors. And he's no stranger to silverware himself, having won a Bafta for The Last King of Scotland and an Oscar nomination for The Queen.

But the main reason he's so in demand is that the type of stories he specialises in – works of fiction in which some of the characters are based on real people and some of the events actually happened – are in fashion. To call this mini-genre "docudrama" isn't quite accurate since no one would criticise a film such as The Other Boleyn Girl for straying too far from the facts. Rather, not unlike Shakespeare, uses reality as a springboard for creative invention.

Morgan isn't alone in ploughing this particular field, but he is probably the most gifted of those working today. Interestingly, though, he was considered a second-rater until quite recently. Within the movie business he was known as Peter 'exposition' Morgan and one of his few credits was a romantic comedy called Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and Lawrence, which was given away by the News of the World in a DVD promotion. It wasn't until he wrote The Deal, the Channel 4 drama chronicling the Granita pact between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, that he discovered his métier. For some reason, his imagination did not soar until it was anchored in non-fiction.

'The Other Boleyn Girl' (12A) is out now

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