Samantha Morton: why everyone is talking about her incredible Desert Island Discs episode

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Samantha Morton’s Desert Island Discs episode is a candid, brave and beautiful conversation about growing up in care.

Please be aware that this article includes sensitive discussions about child abuse.

This week, Oscar-nominated actor Samantha Morton is making headlines for her incredible Desert Island Discs episode. In the brave interview, which is often difficult to listen to at times, the Harlots star discusses what life was like growing up in and out of care and how it has impacted her life. 

The story that most people are focusing on is Morton’s apology to the girl she threatened with a knife when she was 14 years old. She explains that she once returned to her care home from a rave, where she had taken drugs, and saw a nine-year-old boy who she believed at the time had been “pimped” by the girl.

“I snapped and said I was going to kill her,” Morton says. “I didn’t harm her, I didn’t touch her, but I said those words. And I regret it and I am sorry.”

She continues: “I was mortified. And I’m sorry to her. We were all abused. She was a child herself. Nobody looked after us properly. We were rioting in that home because they were locking the fridges at night. We were not safe.”

Although it is of course a shocking story, the context that Morton provides around what happened is so important to listen to: the reality of what it was like for people of her generation growing up in care. 

Morton explains that she couldn’t live with her mother because of her mental health problems, so she was put into care as a baby. She continued her childhood and adolescence in a cycle of periods living in children’s homes, in foster homes or with her dad. 

However, rather than being upset with her mum because of this, Morton says she is angry about the way women with mental health problems are treated. 

“People always put my mum down,” she tells podcast host Lauren Laverne. “My dad had nothing positive to say about her, a lot of other people – [like] social workers – had nothing to say about my mother. 

“And people criticised her choices and I just look back at this woman, Pam, who was kind, subservient, vulnerable, funny, beautiful, and – did I say vulnerable? If I could write that in capital letters I would. She is a saint in a way to me…

“I am fuming at how society behaves around mental health issues with women. My mum had a very, very traumatic childhood and it’s fascinating now as a mother and a grown-up to go ‘wow’.

Samantha Morton
Samantha Morton starred in Channel 4's I am Kirsty last year.

She adds: “She was very zen – her attitude to life or cleaning or being… and certainly how she dealt with her terminal cancer was so inspiring. But I was not privy to seeing her when she was very poorly, when I was very small, with her mental health issues – that’s what people were rude and mean about. Women aren’t allowed to be angry if they’ve been raped or sexually abused. Things weren’t talked about.”

Morton then recalls her own experience of being moved between care homes.

“They don’t tell you why. You were literally living with your little black, plastic bag with your contents in just being moved pillar to post,” she says, before saying some residential workers were “amazing”.

“But also, within the system, you had people that sadly abuse their positions of power,” she continues.

Talking about the sexual abuse she experienced and witnessed, Morton says: “I was always someone who wasn’t easily frightened and I was seeing things (the abuse of other kids) and I went and told my mum and my stepdad what had happened. I said ‘I’ve already told the staff and social worker and they’re not doing anything – I don’t want to go back’. So we went to the police with the hope that, when you’re a kid, you just want it to stop.

“From my understanding, the people who did what they did were downgraded – and I moved home – but they were allowed to stay in the job…”

Explaining the complexities of this as a child who looked up to these people, she adds: “Aside from the incidences, these people were funny, strong clever – I thought these people were amazing, I adored them and it was a big shock to me what happened. I genuinely cared about these individuals [who] did what they did, it was heartbreaking.”

You can listen to Samantha Morton’s Desert Island Discs episode on BBC Sounds.

If you are affected by the issues discussed in this article, NAPAC is a charity that provides help, guidance and information for adult survivors of child abuse. Please visit the website for more details.

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Images: Getty, Channel 4

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…