Emma Thompson

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Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson 2009.jpg
Thompson at the London premiere of Last Chance Harvey in June 2009
Born(1959-04-15) 15 April 1959 (age 55)
Paddington, London, England, United Kingdom
Alma materNewnham College, Cambridge
OccupationActor, comedian, screenwriter, author, activist
Years active1982–present
Spouse(s)Kenneth Branagh (m. 1989–95)
Greg Wise (m. 2003)
Children2
ParentsEric Thompson
Phyllida Law
RelativesSophie Thompson (sister)
AwardsFull list
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from the BBC programme The Film Programme, 28 November 2013.[1]

 
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Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson 2009.jpg
Thompson at the London premiere of Last Chance Harvey in June 2009
Born(1959-04-15) 15 April 1959 (age 55)
Paddington, London, England, United Kingdom
Alma materNewnham College, Cambridge
OccupationActor, comedian, screenwriter, author, activist
Years active1982–present
Spouse(s)Kenneth Branagh (m. 1989–95)
Greg Wise (m. 2003)
Children2
ParentsEric Thompson
Phyllida Law
RelativesSophie Thompson (sister)
AwardsFull list
Sorry, your browser either has JavaScript disabled or does not have any supported player.
You can download the clip or download a player to play the clip in your browser.
from the BBC programme The Film Programme, 28 November 2013.[1]

Emma Thompson (born 15 April 1959) is a British actress, screenwriter and author. Cited as one of the greatest British actresses of her generation,[2][3] she is known for her portrayal of reticent women in period dramas and literary adaptations, often playing haughty or matronly characters with a sense of irony.

Born in Paddington, London to English actor Eric Thompson and Scottish actress Phyllida Law, she was educated at Camden School for Girls and Newnham College, University of Cambridge, where she became a member of the Footlights troupe. After appearing in several comedy programmes, she first came to prominence in 1987 in two BBC TV series, Tutti Frutti and Fortunes of War, winning the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress for her work in both. Her first film role was opposite Jeff Goldblum in the 1989 romantic comedy The Tall Guy, and in the early 1990s she frequently collaborated with then-husband actor and director Kenneth Branagh, appearing on stage together in A Midsummer Night's Dream and King Lear and in such films as Dead Again (1991), Peter's Friends (1992) and Much Ado About Nothing (1993).

In 1992, Thompson won multiple acting awards, including an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress, for her performance as the bourgeois lady Margaret Schlegel in the British drama Howards End. In 1993, Thompson garnered dual Academy Award nominations, as Best Actress for her roles as stately home housekeeper Miss Kenton opposite Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day and as Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of a campaigning lawyer Gareth Peirce alongside Daniel Day-Lewis in In the Name of the Father. In 1995, Thompson scripted and starred in Sense and Sensibility, a film adaptation of the Jane Austen novel of the same name, which earned her an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role among other awards. Other notable film and television credits include her performances in the Harry Potter film series (beginning with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 2004), Love Actually (2003), Angels in America (2003), Nanny McPhee (2005), Stranger than Fiction (2006), Last Chance Harvey (2008), An Education (2009), Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang (2010), Men in Black 3 (2012), and Brave (2012). In 2013, she received a BAFTA nomination for her portrayal of P. L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks.

Thompson met Kenneth Branagh in 1987 while filming Fortunes of War and married him two years later. Dubbed a "golden couple" by the British media, the relationship received considerable press interest until they announced their separation in September 1995. She married Greg Wise in 2003, having given birth to their daughter, Gaia, in 1999. The family's permanent residence is in West Hampstead, London, on the same road that Thompson lived in her youth. She has been outspoken on issues such as religion, politics, the environment and human rights, and is a supporter of Greenpeace, ambassador for the charity ActionAid, and patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Refugee Council. In 2012, Thompson authored The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the publication of Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Early life[edit]

Thompson was born in Paddington, London, on 15 April 1959.[4] A member of a show business family, her mother is the Scottish actress Phyllida Law, while her English father, Eric Thompson, was the writer and narrator of the popular children's television series The Magic Roundabout.[5][6] She has one sister, Sophie Thompson, who also works as an actress.[5] Thompson's godfather was English theatre director and writer Ronald Eyre.[7][8] The family lived in West Hampstead in north London,[6] and Thompson was educated at Camden School for Girls.[9] However, she spent much time in Scotland during her childhood, and often visited Ardentinny where her grandparents and uncle lived who ran the Primrose Tearoom until she was 15.[10]

Newnham College, University of Cambridge, where Thompson began performing

In her youth, Thompson was intrigued by language and literature, a trait which she attributes to her father who shared her love of words.[11] In 1977, she began studying for an English degree at Newnham College, University of Cambridge.[12] Thompson believes that it was inevitable that she would become an actress, commenting that she was "surrounded by creative people and I don’t think it would ever have gone any other way, really".[13] While there, she had a "seminal moment" that turned her to feminism and inspired her to take up performing. She explained in an interview in 2007 how she discovered the book The Madwoman in the Attic, "which is about Victorian female writers and the disguises they took on in order to express what they wanted to express. That completely changed my life."[14] She became a self-professed "punk rocker",[15] with short red hair and a motorbike, and aspired to be a comedian like Lily Tomlin.[14] Thompson was invited into Footlights, the university's prestigious sketch comedy troupe, by its president, Martin Bergman,[16] becoming its first female member.[17] Also in the troupe were fellow actors Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, and she had a romantic relationship with the latter.[18] Fry recalled that "there was no doubt that Emma was going the distance. Our nickname for her was Emma Talented."[19] In 1980, Thompson served as the Vice President of Footlights,[20] and co-directed the troupe's first all-female revue, Women's Hour.[16] The following year, Thompson and her Footlights team won the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for their sketch show The Cellar Tapes.[21]

In 1982, Thompson's father died as a result of circulatory problems at 52 years of age.[5] The actress has commented that this "tore [the family] to pieces",[22] and "I can't begin to tell you how much I regret his not being around".[23] She added, "At the same time, it's possible that were he still alive I might never have had the space or courage to do what I've done ... I have a definite feeling of inheriting space. And power."[23]

Acting career[edit]

1980s: Breaking through[edit]

In 1982, Thompson landed a role touring in a stage version of Not the Nine O'Clock News.[4] She then turned to television, where much of her early work came with her Footlights co-stars Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. The brief comedy series There's Nothing To Worry About! (1982) was their first outing, followed by the one-off show The Crystal Cube (1982).[24] The sketch show Alfresco (1983–84) proved more successful, and ran for two series.[4][24] In 1985, Thompson was cast in the West End revival of the musical Me and My Girl, co-starring Robert Lindsay. It proved a breakthrough for the actress, as the production earned rave reviews.[4][25] However, she played the role for 15 months which exhausted the actress who later remarked "I thought if I did the fucking Lambeth Walk one more time I was going to fucking throw up."[19] At the end of 1985, Thompson wrote and starred in her own one-off special for Channel 4, Emma Thompson: Up for Grabs.[26]

Actor–director Kenneth Branagh, Thompson's first husband, whom she worked with in several stage and screen productions between 1987 and 1993

Thompson achieved another breakthrough in 1987,[4] when she had leading roles in two television miniseries: Fortunes of War, a World War II drama co-starring Kenneth Branagh, and Tutti Frutti, a dark-comedy about a Scottish rock band with Robbie Coltrane.[25] For these performances, Thompson won the British Academy Television Award for Best Actress.[27] The following year, she wrote and starred in her own sketch comedy series, Thompson, but this was poorly received.[28] In 1989, Thompson and Branagh—who had formed a romantic relationship—starred in a stage revival of Look Back in Anger, directed by Judi Dench and produced by Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company.[25][29] Later that year, the pair starred in a televised version of the play.[4][29]

Thompson's first big-screen appearance came in the romantic comedy The Tall Guy (1989),[25] the feature-film debut from screenwriter Richard Curtis. Starring Jeff Goldblum as a West End actor, Thompson played the nurse with whom he falls in love. The film was a box office disappointment,[30] but Thompson's performance was praised in The New York Times, where Caryn James called her "an exceptionally versatile comic actress", noting her "warmly sympathetic" acerbic humour.[31] She next turned to Shakespeare, appearing as Princess Katherine in Branagh's screen adaptation of Henry V (1989). The film was released to great critical acclaim.[32]

1990–93: A leading British actress[edit]

Thompson and Branagh are considered by American writer and critic James Monaco to have led the "British cinematic onslaught" in the 1990s.[33] Thompson continued to experiment with Shakespeare in the new decade, appearing with Branagh in his stage productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and King Lear.[25][29] Reviewing the latter, the Chicago Tribune praised her "extraordinary" performance of the "hobbling, stooped hunchback Fool".[34] Thompson returned to cinema in 1991, playing a "frivolous aristocrat"[4] in Impromptu, a period drama about the life of George Sand that starred Judy Davis and Hugh Grant. The film received positive reviews,[35] and Thompson was nominated for Best Supporting Female at the Independent Spirit Awards.[36] Her second release of 1991 was another pairing with Branagh, who also directed, in the Los Angeles-based noir Dead Again. She played a woman who has forgotten her identity, and the thriller was number one at the US box office for two weeks.[37] Early in 1992, Thompson had a guest role in an episode of the American comedy series Cheers.[38]

A turning point in Thompson's career[25] came when she was cast opposite Anthony Hopkins and Vanessa Redgrave in the Merchant Ivory period drama Howards End (1992), based on the novel by E. M. Forster. The film explored the social class system in Edwardian England, with Thompson playing an idealistic, intellectual, forward-looking woman who comes into association with a privileged, moneyed, deeply conservative family. According to the critic Vincent Canby, the role allowed Thompson to "[come] into her own", away from Branagh, and he felt that she gave "the film's guiding performance".[39] Roger Ebert wrote that she was "superb in the central role: quiet, ironic, observant, with steel inside."[40] Howards End was widely praised,[41] a "surprise hit",[42] and received nine Academy Award nominations.[43] Among its three wins was the Best Actress trophy for Thompson, who was also awarded a Golden Globe and BAFTA for her performance.[4] Reflecting on the role, The New York Times writes that the actress "found herself an international success almost overnight."[4]

Anthony Hopkins starred with Thompson in Howards End (1992) and The Remains of the Day (1993)

For her next two films, Thompson returned to working with Branagh. In Peter's Friends (1992), the pair starred with Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, and Tony Slattery as a group of Cambridge alumni who are reunited ten years after graduating. The comedy was positively reviewed,[44] and Desson Howe of The Washington Post wrote that Thompson was its highlight: "Even as a rather one-dimensional character, she exudes grace and an adroit sense of comic tragedy."[45] The actress followed this with Branagh's screen version of Much Ado About Nothing (1993). The couple starred as Beatrice and Benedick, alongside a cast that also included Denzel Washington, Keanu Reaves, and Michael Keaton. Owen Gleiberman. Thompson and Branagh were widely praised for their on-screen chemistry and the natural ease in which she played the role[46][47] marking another critical success for Thompson.[48] Her performance earned a nomination for Best Female Lead at the Independent Spirit Awards.[36]

Thompson reunited with Merchant–Ivory and Anthony Hopkins to film The Remains of the Day (1993), a film which has been described as a "classic" and a definitive film of the company.[49][50] Based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel about a housekeeper and butler in interwar Britain, the story is acclaimed for its study of loneliness and repression, though Thompson was particularly interested in looking at "the deformity that servitude inflicts upon people", since her grandmother had worked as a servant and made many sacrifices.[51] Thompson has named the film as one of the greatest experiences of her career, considering it to be a "masterpiece of withheld emotion".[52] Vincent Canby noted the edgy relationship shared in the film between her Miss Kenton and Hopkins's Stevens and the lively way in which she played the housekeeper. The Remains of the Day was a critical and commercial success,[49] receiving eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and a second Best Actress nod for Thompson. Along with her Best Actress nomination at the 66th Academy Awards, Thompson was also nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category, making her the eighth performer in history to be nominated for two Oscars in the same year.[53] It came for her role as the lawyer Gareth Peirce in In the Name of the Father (1993), a drama about the Guildford Four starring Daniel Day-Lewis. The film was her second hit of the year, earning $65 million and critical praise, and was nominated for Best Picture along with The Remains of the Day.[54][55]

1994–98: Sense and Sensibility and Hollywood acclaim[edit]

In 1994, Thompson made her Hollywood debut playing a goofy doctor alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in the blockbuster Junior. Although the male pregnancy storyline and script was poorly received by most critics,[56] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned that Thompson had the opportunity to demonstrate her slapstick skills as a comedian for American audiences by portraying the clumsy scientist in the film. She returned to independent cinema for a lead role in Carrington, which studied the platonic relationship between artist Dora Carrington and writer Lytton Strachey (played by Jonathan Price). Roger Ebert remarked that Thompson had "developed a specialty in unrequited love",[57] and the TV Guide Film & Video Companion commented that her "neurasthenic mannerisms, which usually drive us batty, are appropriate here".[58]

Saltram House which stood in for Norland Park in Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Thompson's Academy success continued with Sense and Sensibility (1995), generally considered to be the most popular and authentic of the numerous film adaptions of Jane Austen's novels made in the 1990s.[59][60][61] Thompson—a lifelong lover of the novels of Austen—was hired to write the film based on the period sketches in her series Thompson.[62] She spent five years developing the screenplay,[63] and took the role of the spinster sister Elinor Dashwood despite, at 35, being 16 years older than the literary character.[64] Directed by Ang Lee and co-starring Kate Winslet, Sense and Sensibility received widespread critical praise and is one of the highest-grossing films of Thompson's career.[65][66] Film critic Graham Fuller of Sight and Sound considered Thompson to be the film's "auteur, its suffragette and heroic 'male' surrogate".[67] Shelly Frome remarked that Thompson displayed a "great affinity for Jane Austen's style and wit",[68] and Todd McCarthy of Variety expressed admiration of the way in which she performed the "neat trick of preserving the necessary niceties and decorum of civilized behavior of the time while still cutting to the dramatic quick" in her writing.[69] She received a third nomination for Best Actress and won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay, making her the only person in history to win an Oscar for both acting and writing,[70] and also earned a second BAFTA Award for Best Actress and a Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay.[4]

Thompson was absent from screens in 1996, but returned the following year with Alan Rickman's directorial debut, The Winter Guest. Set over one day in a Scottish seaside village, the drama allowed Thompson and her mother (Phyllida Law) to play mother and daughter on screen.[71] She then returned to America to appear in an episode of Ellen, and her self-parodying performance received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.[25][72]

In 1998, Thompson starred with John Travolta in Mike Nichols's Primary Colors, playing a couple based on Bill and Hillary Clinton.[73] Thompson's character, Susan, is described as that of an "ambitious, long-suffering wife" who has to deal with her husband's infidelity.[74] The film was critically well received but lost money at the box office.[75][76] According to Kevin O'Sullivan of the Daily Mirror, Americans were "blown away" by her performance and faultless American accent, stating that it led to all of the top producers in Hollywood lining up to hire her after seeing the film.[77] However, Thompson rejected many of the offers, expressing concerns about living in Los Angeles behind walls with bodyguards, remarking that "LA is lovely as long as you know you can leave". She also admitted to feeling tired and jaded with the industry at this point in her career which influenced her decision to leave film for a year.[78] Thompson followed Primary Colors by playing an FBI agent opposite Rickman in the poorly-received thriller Judas Kiss (1998).[79]

2000s: Smaller roles[edit]

Thompson at the London premiere of Nanny McPhee, 2005

When she became a mother in 1999, Thompson made a conscious decision to reduce her workload, and in the following years many of her appearances were supporting roles.[51][80] She was not seen on screen again until 2000, with only a small part in the British comedy Maybe Baby, which she appeared in as a favour to its director, her friend Ben Elton.[81]

For the HBO television film Wit (2001), however, Thompson happily took the lead role in what she felt was "one of the best scripts to have come out of America".[82] Adapted from Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize winning play, it focusses on a Harvard University professor who finds her values challenged when she is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Thompson was instrumental in bringing Mike Nichols to direct the project, and the pair spent months in rehearsal to get the complex character right.[83] She was greatly drawn to the "daredevil" role,[84] for which she had no qualms about shaving her head.[85] Reviewing the performance, Roger Ebert was touched by "the way she struggles with every ounce of her humanity to keep her self-respect", and in 2008 he called it Thompson's finest work.[86] Caryn James of The New York Times also described it as "one of her most brilliant performances", adding "we seem to be peering into a soul as embattled as its body."[87] The film earned Thompson nominations at the Golden Globes, Emmys and Screen Actors Guild Awards.[88]

Thompson's only credit of 2002 was a vocal performance in Disney's Treasure Planet, an adaptation of Treasure Island, where she voiced Captain Amelia. The animation earned far less than its large budget and was considered a "box office disaster".[89] This failure was countered the following year by one of Thompson's biggest commercial successes, Richard Curtis's romantic comedy Love Actually.[66] As part of an ensemble cast that included Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, and Colin Firth, she played a middle-class wife who suspects her husband (played by Alan Rickman) of infidelity. The scene in which her stalwart character breaks down was described by one critic as "the best crying on screen ever",[51] and in 2013, Thompson mentioned that she gets commended for this role more than any other.[90] Her performance received a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[91]

"Nanny McPhee, it took nine years to make that movie, from the moment I picked up the book to the moment we walked into the movie theatre ... the [films] were labours of great love and commitment."

—Thompson on Nanny McPhee and its sequel, which she wrote and starred in.[51]

Thompson continued with supporting roles in the 2003 drama Imagining Argentina, where she played a dissident-journalist abducted by the country's 1970s dictatorial regime. Antonio Banderas played the husband who tries to find her, in a film that most critics disliked.[92] The film was booed and jeered at when it was screened at the Venice Film Festival and received a scathing article in The Guardian.[93] Thompson had greater success that year when she worked with HBO for a second time in the acclaimed miniseries Angels in America (2003).[25] The show, also featuring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep, dealt with the AIDS epidemic in Reagan-era America. Thompson played three small roles – a nurse, a homeless woman, and an angel – and was again nominated for an Emmy Award.[72] In 2004, she played the eccentric teacher Sybill Trelawney in the third Harry Potter film, the Prisoner of Azkaban, her character described as a "hippy chick professor who teaches fortune-telling".[94] She later reprised her role with minor appearances in the Order of the Phoenix (2007) and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011),[25] and has called her time on the popular franchise "great fun".[51]

In 2005, Thompson wrote the script and played the lead role alongside Colin Firth and Angela Lansbury in the children's film Nanny McPhee, which centres on a mysterious, unsightly nanny who must discipline a group of children. The film, loosely based on the Nurse Matilda stories that she read as a child, was a highly personal project for her which she'd been developing for nine years.[51][95] The film was a success, taking number one at the UK box office and earning $122 million worldwide.[96][97] Commenting on Thompson's screenplay, film critic Claudia Puig wrote that its "well-worn storybook features are woven effectively into an appealing tale of youthful empowerment".[98] The following year, Thompson appeared in the surreal comedy–drama Stranger than Fiction, playing a novelist whose latest character (played by Will Ferrell) is a real person who hears her narration in his head. Reviews for the film were generally favourable.[99]

Thompson in January 2008

Following a brief, uncredited role in the post-apocalyptic blockbuster I Am Legend (2007),[100] Thompson played the devoutly-Catholic Lady Marchmain in a 2008 film adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. Critics were unenthusiastic about the film,[101] but several picked Thompson out as its highlight.[102][103] Mark Kermode said "Emma Thompson is to some extent becoming the new Judi Dench, as the person who kind of comes in for 15 minutes and is brilliant ... [but then] when she goes away, the rest of the movie has a real problem living up to the wattage of her presence".[104] Thompson was further acclaimed for her work in the London-based romance Last Chance Harvey (2008), where she and Dustin Hoffman played a lonely, middle-aged pair who cautiously begin a relationship. Critics praised the chemistry between the two leads, and both received Golden Globe nominations for their performances.[105][106] Thompson's two 2009 films were both set in 1960s England, and in both she made cameo appearances: as a headmistress in the critically praised drama An Education[107] and as a "tippling mother" in Richard Curtis's The Boat that Rocked.[108]

2010s: Veteran performer[edit]

Five years after the original, Thompson returned to Nanny McPhee with 2010's Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang. Her screenplay transported the story to Britain during the Second World War, and incorporated a new cast including Maggie Gyllenhaal. Building on the first film's success, it was another UK box office number one and the sequel was widely seen as an improvement.[109][110] The same year, Thompson reunited with Alan Rickman for the BBC television film The Song of Lunch, which focussed on two unnamed characters meeting at a restaurant 15 years after ending their relationship.[111] Thompson's performance earned her a fourth Emmy Award nomination.[72]

Thompson at the 2009 César Awards

In 2012, Thompson made a rare appearance in a big-budget Hollywood film[51] when she played the head Agent in Men in Black 3 – a continuation of the popular sci-fi comedy franchise starring Will Smith. With a worldwide gross of $624 million, MIB3 is Thompson's biggest commercial hit outside of the Harry Potter films.[66] This mainstream success continued with the Pixar film Brave, in which Thompson voiced Elinor – the Scottish queen despairing at her daughter's defiance against tradition.[25] It was her second consecutive blockbuster release, and critics were generally kind to the film.[66][112] Also in 2012, Thompson played Queen Elizabeth II in an episode of Playhouse Presents, which dramatised an incident in 1982 when an intruder broke into the Queen's bedroom.[113]

Thompson's first film of 2013 was the fantasy romance Beautiful Creatures, in which she played an evil mother. The film aimed to capitalise on the success of The Twilight Saga, but was poorly reviewed and a box office disappointment.[114][115] Film critic Peter Travers was critical of Thompson's performance and "outrageously awful Southern accent", and feared "the damage this crock may do to [her] reputation".[116] Conversely, her next appearance was so successful that it led one journalist to write "Emma Thompson is back, firing on all cylinders."[117] Saving Mr. Banks depicted the making of Mary Poppins, and starred Thompson as P. L. Travers, curmudgeonly author of the source novel, and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. The actress considered it the best screenplay she had read in years and was delighted to be offered the role. She considered it to be the most challenging of her career because she had "never really played anyone quite so contradictory or difficult before", but found the inconsistent and complicated character "a blissful joy to embody".[51][118] The film was well-received, grossed $107 million worldwide, and critics were unanimous in their praise for Thompson's performance.[117][119] The review in The Independent expressed thanks that her "playing of Travers is so deft that we instantly warm to her, and forgive her her snobbery",[120] while Total Film's critic felt that Thompson brought depth to the "predictable" film with "her best performance in years".[121] Thompson was nominated for Best Actress at the BAFTAs, SAGs and Golden Globes, and received the Lead Actress trophy from the National Board of Review. Meryl Streep stated that she was "shocked" to see that Thompson didn't even receive an Oscar nomination for the film.[122]

The romantic-comedy The Love Punch (2013) gave Thompson her second consecutive leading role, where she and Pierce Brosnan played a divorced couple who reunite to steal his ex-boss's jewellery.[123] In March 2014, she made her first stage appearance in 24 years – and her New York debut – in a Lincoln Center production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. She appeared in the musical for five nights, and her "playful" performance of Mrs Lovett was highly praised; the critic Kayla Epstein wrote that she "not only held her own against more experienced vocalists, but wound up running off with the show."[124]

Upcoming projects[edit]

Thompson has several upcoming projects, including her latest screenplay offering – the drama Effie. Based on the true-life story of art critic John Ruskin's affair with Effie Gray, the film was subject to a copyright case before being cleared for release. The American playwright Gregory Murphy claimed that it was an infringement on his play The Countess, which deals with the same story,[125] but in March 2013 a judge ruled that they were "quite dissimilar in their two approaches to fictionalising the same historical events".[126] Thompson also appears in the film, alongside her husband Greg Wise and actress Dakota Fanning, which is scheduled for release in May 2014.[127] In addition, she has recorded the narration for Jason Reitman's comedy Men, Women & Children,[128] and has a supporting role in the thriller Survivor, to be released in 2015.[129] She also features as a narrator, along with Brad Pitt, on Terrence Malick's upcoming documentary Voyage of Time,[130] and will star with Robert Carlyle in his film adaptation of The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson.[131]

Style and reception[edit]

Thompson on the set of Last Chance Harvey in 2008

Thompson is widely considered to be one of the finest actresses of her generation,[2][3] and one of Britain's best-known actresses.[132] Timothy Sexton, critic on Yahoo! considers her to be easily the best actress of the 1990s.[133] Mark Kermode commenting in The Observer has cited her as a national treasure and "one of our most extravagantly talented stars", noting her "impeccable comic timing" and "bracing, nanny-like demeanour", possessing an ability to play haughty characters to perfection.[19] Thompson is noted for her portrayal of reticent women which win the empathy of the audience,[134] and has a strong background in comedy which is frequently reflected in her work, delivered with an ironic touch. Ang Lee believes that Thompson's comic touch may be her greatest asset as an actress, remarking that "Emma is an extremely funny lady. Like Austen, she's laughing at her own culture while she's a part of it."[135]

The Independent considers Thompson to be a "one-woman institution" who "espouses a peculiarly British image",[136] and Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe compared her often dogmatic, tight-jawed manner to Maggie Smith.[135] Thompson belongs to a group of highly decorated British actresses including Judi Dench, Kate Winslet and Helena Bonham Carter who are known for appearing in films of the "heritage genre" such as period dramas and literary adaptions.[137][138] Christine Geraghty writes that the genre is marked by acting which is characterized by "restraint, rendering emotions through intellect rather than feelings, and a sense of irony, which demonstrates the heroine's superior understanding".[137] Thompson considers herself to be "a bit bossy", which she confesses that some people find difficult to deal with,[19] and has stated that the "most moving things are often also funny, in life and in art" which is present in her film work.[13] Kate Kellaway of The Observer believes that it is her lack of conventional beauty which has contributed much to her likeability, but praises her acting technique, her "attractive, low and supernaturally calm" voice, and notes that she specialises as a "good woman in a frock".[139] Sarah Sands of The Independent believes that Thompson may very well be "the best actress of our times on suffering borne with poignant dignity", and states that she has matured over the years as an actress and to have "done something extraordinary for her profession and for all women", and that she can be seen as a model of feminist strength who injects her real-life personality into many of her roles.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Dunoon in Scotland, where Thompson owns a home and visits when on holiday

Thompson, although born in London, has confessed to feeling Scottish, the reason being that "not only because I am half Scottish but also because I've spent half my life here".[10] She frequently returns to Scotland and visits Dunoon in Argyll and Bute when on holiday, owning a home there.

Thompson's first husband was the actor and director Kenneth Branagh, whom she met in 1987 while filming the television series Fortunes of War.[140] The couple married in 1989 and proceeded to appear in several films together, with Branagh often casting Thompson in his own productions.[141] Dubbed a "golden couple" by the British media,[140] the relationship received considerable press interest.[6] The pair attempted to keep their relationship private, refusing to be interviewed or photographed together, and Branagh commented in 1993: "I don't want people buying into some kind of Burton-Taylor double-act thing."[142] In September 1995, Thompson and Branagh announced that they had separated; their statement to the press explained: "Our work has inevitably led to our spending long periods ... away from each other and, as a result, we have drifted apart."[140]

Thompson's husband, Greg Wise, whom she met while filming Sense and Sensibility

Thompson was living alone as the relationship with Branagh deteriorated, and entered into a depression. In a later interview, she revealed that working on the Sense and Sensibility screenplay was the only thing that stopped her from "going under in a very nasty way."[22] While filming the 1995 movie, Thompson began a relationship with her co-star Greg Wise. Commenting on how she was able to overcome her depression, she told BBC Radio Four, "Work saved me and Greg saved me. He picked up the pieces and put them together again."[22] In 1999, the couple had a daughter, Gaia, born when Thompson was 39. The pregnancy was achieved through IVF treatment; afterwards Wise and Thompson attempted to have another child using the same method. Three years of further IVF treatment were unsuccessful.[6]

In 2003, Thompson and Wise were married in Dunoon.[143] The family's permanent residence is in West Hampstead, London, on the same road where Thompson lived in her youth.[6] Also in 2003, Thompson and her husband informally adopted a Rwandan orphan and former child soldier named Tindyebwa Agaba. They met at a Refugee Council event when he was 16, and invited him to spend Christmas at their home.[6] "Slowly," Thompson has commented, "he became a sort of permanent fixture, came on holiday to Scotland with us, became part of the family."[144] Expanding on this experience, Thompson said, "I couldn't have more children, and that was hard; but perhaps if I had [had more], I'd have missed out on this extra act of mothering that I've had with Tindy."[6] Tindy became a British citizen in 2009,[145] and works as a human rights lawyer.[5]

Views and activism[edit]

Thompson (far left and on screen) speaking at the World Economic Forum, 2008

Thompson has said of her religious views: "I'm an atheist; I suppose you can call me a sort of libertarian anarchist. I regard religion with fear and suspicion. It's not enough to say that I don't believe in God. I actually regard the system as distressing: I am offended by some of the things said in the Bible and the Qur'an and I refute them."[146] Despite this, she has said that "The guiding moral principles, the ethical principles, much of the philosophy [of the Christian tradition], if properly applied, is very good", and that she observes the Christmas tradition.[147] She is supporter of the Labour Party and she told the BBC Andrew Marr Show in March 2010 that she had been a member of the party "all my life."[148] She opposes Scottish independence, although she believes that England has been "so awful" to Scotland.[143]

Thompson is a supporter of Greenpeace. It was announced on 13 January 2009 that, with three other members of the organisation, she had bought land near the village of Sipson, under threat from a proposed third runway for Heathrow Airport.[149] It was hoped that possession of the land, half the size of a football pitch, would make it possible to prevent the government from carrying through its plan to expand the airport.

Thompson is an ambassador for the charity ActionAid and has travelled to Uganda, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Liberia and Burma to raise awareness of its work.[150] Thompson is also an activist for Palestinians, having been a member of the British-based ENOUGH! coalition that seeks to end the "Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.".[151] Additionally, she is a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation[152] and the Refugee Council.

Books[edit]

In 2012, Thompson wrote The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit,[153][154] as an addition to the Peter Rabbit series by Beatrix Potter to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the publication of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The book falls in the middle of the earlier series, rather than at the end, and takes Peter Rabbit outside of Mr. McGregor's garden and into Scotland. It was a New York Times Best Seller.[155] In 2013, Thompson wrote a second book entitled The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit.[155]

Filmography, awards and nominations[edit]

Thompson has been nominated and won many awards during her career, including five Academy Award nominations (winning two), nine Golden Globe Award nominations (winning two), seven BAFTA Award nominations (winning three), and five Emmy Award nominations (winning one).[156]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]