Suffragette writer Abi Morgan says that a teenage hockey match was the inspiration behind BBC One and SundanceTV’s drama The Split, which brings together high-profile divorces, an obsession with other peoples’ relationships and a predominantly female cast and crew.
Morgan, who previously created period drama The Hour and crime thriller River, said that the idea for the six-part series came about while she was watching her daughter’s school game. “I started talking to a mum and she said she was a divorce lawyer and by the end of the hockey match, which I watched very little, I realised it was a great world for a show, with London as the divorce capital of the world,” she says.
The Split looks at divorce through the eyes of the Defoes, a family of female lawyers. Hannah Stern, played by Nicola Walker, has walked out of the family firm to join a rival company and now faces her sister Nina (Annabel Scholey) and mother Ruth (Deborah Findlay) on the opposing sides of high-profile cases. The family, which also includes youngest sister Rose (Fiona Button) is thrown into further turmoil after their father, played by Buffy The Vampire Slayer star Anthony Head, returns after a 30-year absence. Episodes’ Stephen Mangan plays Hannah’s husband.
“This was a way for me to comfortably put a large ensemble of women together that would be authentic and believable,” Morgan adds. “I consciously write ensembles of women. I love writing for men and work with incredible male producers and directors but it’s about branding for me and I want to write for ensembles for women because for years we’ve seen ensembles of men.”
The show is the first commission for Sister Pictures, the drama firm led by former Kudos chief Jane Featherstone, who was responsible for producing series including Spooks and Broadchurch, is directed by Jessica Hobbs (Apple Tree Yard) and produced by Black Mirror’s Lucy Dyke.
BBC Director of Content Charlotte Moore, who commissioned the series alongside BBC drama chief Piers Wenger, says that The Split has a “brilliantly all female team” and highlighted Morgan’s “trademark wit, insight and truth”. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a show in my lifetime that really feels like this,” she says.
Featherstone adds, “We just go for ideas that we’re interested in watching and I feel there haven’t been enough stories that tell these relationships and see these characters on screen. I love to emote. We’re often on a thrill ride and I think one of the great gifts of television is to access your feelings at home privately.”
The Split has a similar style to CBS’ The Good Wife, a legal drama featuring cases of the week with a more complex relationship drama playing out across the season.
“The legal drama aspect is a way of smuggling in stories that allow you to examine modern relationships and marriage. I’m struck by how much hope and love and heart there is in it, a legal show about divorce could be quite dry and depressing but it’s really about love and marriage and the search for resolution,” says Featherstone.
Morgan calls it a “hybrid” of genres. She tells Deadline, “I’m incredibly inspired by the industry at the moment, by the challenging forms and in a way that’s why we’re resistant to saying it’s a legal drama because I think it’s a hybrid, I think it’s legal, it’s family, it’s relationship.”
The series launching on BBC One on April 24 at 9pm and May 23 at 10pm on SundanceTV, which according to Featherstone is keen on the British tone. “Sundance were amazing partners on this, they wanted the show that we wanted to make and they would give great feedback but it was never ‘make it more American’ ever, it was always just about deepening the stories of the characters who were there.”