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The Emma Thompson Bio

The Emma Thompson Review –

by Nate Lee


Love Actually / Stranger than Fiction

Alright! Alright! The trilogy of "Howards End," "Remains of the Day," and "Sense and Sensibility" are all brilliant and principally propelled by Thompson's performances. There are so many in this genre, though, they rather cancel each other out. "Love Actually," though, needs more people to see how brilliant it is. Meanwhile, "Stranger than Fiction" lets Emma out of her costumes to prove she can be first-rate in this century. (Thompson is only a small player in the Potter universe, so that doesn't count.)
Great Performances You May Not Have Seen:
Love Actually (part of a brilliant ensemble of British actors celebrating Christmas)
Stranger than Fiction (a neurotic writer in control of Will Ferrell's life)
In the Name of the Father (Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated performance as Daniel Day Lewis's attorney)
Last Chance Harvey (Golden Globe-nominated performance as a middle-aged civil servant, opposite Dustin Hoffman)
An Education (a Headmistress)
The Winter Guest (a recently widowed woman coming to terms with herself and her mother)
Dead Again (amnesiac in 1940s L.A., opposite detective (and director) Kenneth Branagh)
Peter's Friends (the British "Big Chill," a reunion of Cambridge grads, directed by Branagh)
The Harry Potter series (Professor Trelawney, the very nearsighted Divinations teacher)
Primary Colors (Hillary Clinton, opposite John Travolta's Bill Clinton)
Pirate Radio
The Shakespearean Emma:
Much Ado about Nothing (Beatrice, very much opposite director and then-husband Kenneth Branagh, as Benedict)
Henry V (Katherine, opposite Kenneth Branagh as the title character in his directorial debut)
The Proper British Emma:
Nanny McPhee (a magical nanny guaranteed to elicit good manners from her charges; she wrote the film, too)
Howards End (Oscar and Golden Globe-winning performance as Margaret, opposite Vanessa Redgrave and Anthony Hopkins)
Sense and Sensibility (Oscar, SAG and Golden Globe-nominated performance as Elinor Dashwood
The Remains of the Day (Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated performance as housekeeper to a British lord, opposite Anthony Hopkins as a too-stiff butler)
Brideshead Revisited (Lady Marchmain, an aristocrat with an alcoholic son and philandering husband)
Carrington (painter and Bloomsbury Group member Dora Carrington, in her strange affair with Jonathan Pryce as homosexual writer Lytton Strachey)
Impromptu (Duchess d'Antan, hostess to George Sand and a weekend's full of would-be lovers)
The Real Emma Thompson:
Howards End / Stranger than Fiction

You could say any of the period pieces, as Thompson seems to relish those parts, and her long (and continuing) classical stage training shows. Though the two Shakespearean films are interesting because she is opposite ex-husband Branagh – also devoted to bringing classics to film – in roles that actually have them bickering or squaring off in one way or another. The strong woman in "Howards End" seems to be a better fit than the simpering Austenian sister of "Oversensitive and Sensibility." As a professional writer, too, she was playing close to home in the brilliant "Stranger than Fiction." 
Acting Style:
Classic and serious. Even in her comedies, which are brilliant, Thompson is very serious. She has had no small part, so to speak, as both a writer and an actor, in bringing a host of British classics to a broader audience; of making even the likes of Jane Austen not just palatable but downright entertaining, and not just for women. For this, she deserves the distinction of being the ONLY person to have ever received an Oscar for both writing and acting.
Bits and Quirks:
Can pull off a grade of sad and/or worried that is uncanny, well beyond the pale. Besides just a blank stare, she does this with quick flits of the eyes, sometimes accompanied by a slow bowing of the head, or the usual looking off in the distance. Her trained voice she usually uses in opposition, rarely letting a crack be heard; rather, it's the British upper-class-stiff-upper-lip attitude. Exceedingly calm voice most of the time, and typically over-enunciated.
Great Scenes:
Stranger Than Fiction

> On top of her desk when Queen Latifah walks in
> The phone calls from Will Ferrell
> Discussions with Dustin Hoffman on the book

In the Name of the Father

> The unintimidated lawyer poking around Daniel Day Lewis's prison
> In the courtroom

Harry Potter

> First meeting Harry and predicting doom
> Making the prediction in the scary voice
> Getting kicked out of the castle and brought back in by Dumbledore

Nanny McPhee

> Fooling the children at the beginning
> Appearing out of nowhere to scare Colin Firth
> The wedding scene

Henry V

> The repartee with Kenneth Branagh at the end

Much Ado About Nothing

> Hiding behind the statue, eavesdropping on conversation about how Benedict loves her

Howards End

> The tete a tetes with the upper-class brute Anthony Hopkins
> threatening to leave him, after he wouldn't let her sister stay at Howards End
> getting Howards End after all
> the accidental murder with the bookcase

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