Drink, depression, homelessness and football injuries: the road to the director’s first feature, Sweetheart, has been difficult. She even dumped one project when her feelings about her gender identity changed

Marley Morrison has written and directed a knockout first feature – the witty, spiky queer romance Sweetheart – but when she rocks up to the back terrace of a London cafe, her appearance doesn’t exactly scream “film-maker”. The impish 35-year-old looks more like the coolest cartoon character you ever saw: the love child of Popeye and Tank Girl. Bleached hair peeks out from beneath her pink Barbour cap; shorts and T-shirt leave her intricately cross-hatched tattoos on display. “My partner’s a tattoo artist,” she explains as she sits down, “so I’m a sketch book.” On one arm is Marlene Dietrich; on the other, Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are snuggled up together in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. On her right calf is the Disney warrior Mulan, who in ancient China came to her father’s rescue by dressing as a boy. Hold that thought.

Morrison has glowering eyes, and a Lena Dunham-esque surliness that disappears the second she starts talking about the astonishing reception Sweetheart has had this year on the festival circuit. “I wasn’t expecting this,” she says, sounding dazed. “I just hoped it might resonate with a few people.” The picture won the audience award at the Glasgow film festival, as well as being named best first feature at the Inside Out festival in Toronto, while its star, the miraculous newcomer Nell Barlow, took home the best performance prize at Outfest in Los Angeles. Morrison herself is suddenly in demand: she has just made an ad campaign for Microsoft and will direct episodes of a new ITV2 teen drama before she moves on to her next film.

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