Reykjavik-born Örnólfsdóttir is one of today’s hottest writers of TV drama in Iceland.

After her defining years as rock band player in the influential rock band The Sugarcubes from 1988 to 1992, she went solo as a musician, writing for film and theatre, and recorded albums for children. She then turned to storytelling, through children’s books (The World in Your Pocket Icelandic Children‘s Literature Prize 2012) and screenwriting for film and television.

Her TV writing credit includes the series Black Angels, The Court, The Press, Prisoners (nominated in 2017 for the Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize), and Trapped season 2, just airing now on RÚV. She was hired by director/producer Björn B. Björnsson (Reykjavik Films) to bring a female approach to Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson’s best-selling novel The Flatey Enigma (Flateyjargátan).

Set in 1971, in the remote Flatey island off the Icelandic coast, the thriller follows Johanna, a strong-willed professor of Nordic Studies, who returns home to Iceland from Paris for her father’s funeral. Johanna seizes a chance to conclude her father’s work by solving a riddle buried in an ancient manuscript, The Book of Flatey, even moving to the isolated island of Flatey to immerse herself in her work. However soon after her arrival, events take a dramatic turn as Johanna is accused of a murder. To prove her innocence, she has to solve the riddle and face the man she ran away from then years earlier.

The series was produced by Sagafilm and Reykjavik Films for RÚV. It premiered on the Icelandic pubcaster late November. Sky Vision handles world distribution outside the Nordics and Benelux.


What does it mean for you to be nominated for the second time for the Nordisk Film & TV Fond TV Prize? 
Margrét Örnólfsdóttir: It’s always an honour and a delight to be nominated. To be nominated twice is a prize in itself.

How did you get into screenwriting?
MÖ: I kind of came in through the backdoor, since I’m originally a musician and wanted to be a film composer. I did one film score in 1996 and then I had a hard time getting another assignment since all the film directors in Iceland seemed to already have a musical friend, so I just ended up writing a script for a musical feature called Regina. That’s when I realised not only that I could write, but also that I liked it a lot. Later I became a part of a comedy sketch writing team and then one thing lead to another and before I knew it I was writing drama series. I guess I must have found my preferred place there because I’ve been doing it ever since. At least for now.

How different is your work today compared to when you started a decade ago?
MÖ: I don’t know if I’m the best judge. Obviously, I have gained a lot of experience and hopefully I’ve become better at it in the process. I’ve always just kept on going and as soon as I finish a project, it’s more or less out of my system, like a distant memory or an old lover – you can recall a happy feeling but you don’t necessarily want to revisit it.

How did you get involved in The Flatey Enigma and why?
Björn Brynjúlfur the director and producer contacted me in 2012 and asked me to take on the task and after some discussions about the concept and the vision, I felt excited to become part of it.

How different is your screenplay from Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson's eponymous book?
The series is actually rather inspired by rather than based on the novel. In the first place, the main character in the series, Jóhanna, is vaguely based on a small character in the book and this obviously changes the whole perspective. It changes the story dramatically and even the theme. We also moved the story forward in time by ten years, in order for it to coincide with the historical event when Denmark gave Iceland back its national treasures – The manuscripts of The Flatey Book and Codex Regius.

The series is set in the 1970s. In what way is the series relevant to today’s audiences?
MÖ: The status of women in a male dominant society and gender-based violence and discrimination is, unfortunately, just as relevant today as it was back in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s also time we took another look at history and wondered if maybe a large part of it has been missing, namely women’s part in it. And then we should rewrite history so it reflects something a bit closer to reality.

Do you have any tip to other budding screenwriters, or an advice you received, that you found particularly useful?
MÖ: I think the most useful thing I’ve learned is the importance of relationships in character development. The relationships of the character are the dramatic engine and what in fact matters most to the audience. We don’t give a damn if somebody managed to save the world if the important relationships in that character's life is left unresolved. And I’m not talking about old lovers now, it could be anybody really, just as long as it’s truly meaningful for the character (and thus the audience).

Cite two TV dramas that you’ve binge-watched recently..
I’m a really bad binge-watcher since I can only watch two episodes before falling asleep. But I’ve recently watched Maniac on Netflix and I’m halfway through The Norwegians, which I find painfully funny. Patrick Melrose I almost binge-watched…it was so good. I named three, sorry. Can I name one more?

What's next for you?
MÖ: We’ve just finished a draft of the second season of Fangar (Prisoners) which I hope will go into production later this year or early 2020. I’m also writing a documentary series, which is a new experience for me and a very exciting one, but I can’t tell you what it’s about since that’s an absolute top secret. Then I’m in early stages of development of a series based on one of the key literary works of Iceland, also a top secret! And I’m doing research for a TV series that’s going to be something I can promise you. And I hope I can find the time to go to Africa sometime later this year.