For the Australian cricketer, see.
Dame Emma Thompson, (born 15 April 1959) is a British actress, screenwriter, activist, author and comedienne. She is known for her portrayals of enigmatic women, often in period dramas and literary adaptations, and playing matronly characters with a sense of wit. She is one of Britain's most acclaimed actresses.
Born in London to English actor and Scottish actress, Thompson was educated at,, where she became a member of the troupe. After appearing in several comedy programmes, she first came to prominence in 1987 in two BBC TV series, and, winning the for her work in both series. Her first film role was in the 1989 romantic comedy, and in the early 1990s, she frequently collaborated with her then husband, actor and director. The pair became popular in the British media and co-starred in several films, including (1991) and (1993).
In 1992, Thompson won an and a Award for Best Actress for the period drama. In 1993, she garnered dual Academy Award nominations for her roles in as the housekeeper of a grand household and as a lawyer. Thompson scripted and starred in (1995), which earned her (among ) an - which makes her the only person to receive Academy Awards for both acting and writing - and a BAFTA Award for. Other notable film and television credits include the film series, (2001), (2003), (2003), (2005), (2006), (2008), (2012), (2012), and (2017). In 2013, she received acclaim and several award nominations for her portrayal of in.
Thompson is married to actor, with whom she lives in London. They have one daughter and an adopted son. She is an activist in the areas of and and has received criticism for her outspokenness. She has written two books adapted from.
Thompson was born in, London, on 15 April 1959. Her mother is the Scottish actress, while her English father,, was involved in theatre, and was the writer–narrator of the popular children's television series. Her godfather was the director and writer. She has one sister,, who also works as an actress. The family lived in in north London, and Thompson was educated at. She spent much time in Scotland during her childhood and often visited, where her grandparents and uncle lived.
In her youth, Thompson was intrigued by language and literature, a trait which she attributes to her father, who shared her love of words. In 1977, she began studying for an English degree at. 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". While there, she had a "seminal moment" that turned her to and inspired her to take up performing. She explained in an interview in 2007 how she discovered the book, "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." She became a self-professed "punk rocker", with short red hair and a motorbike, and aspired to be a comedian like.
At Cambridge, Thompson was invited into, the university's prestigious troupe, by its president,, becoming its first female member. Also in the troupe were fellow actors and, and she had a romantic relationship with the latter. Fry recalled that "there was no doubt that Emma was going the distance. Our nickname for her was Emma Talented." In 1980, Thompson served as the Vice President of Footlights, and co-directed the troupe's first all-female revue, Woman's Hour. The following year, Thompson and her Footlights team won the at the for their sketch show.
In 1982, Thompson's father died as a result of circulatory problems at the age of 52. The actress has commented that this "tore [the family] to pieces", and "I can't begin to tell you how much I regret his not being around". 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."
1980s: Breaking through
Thompson had her first professional role in 1982, touring in a stage version of. She then turned to television, where much of her early work came with her Footlights co-stars Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. The regional comedy series (1982) was their first outing, followed by the one-off show (1983).There's Nothing to Worry About! later returned as the networked (1983–84), which ran for two series with Thompson, Fry, Laurie,, and. She later collaborated again with Fry and Laurie on the acclaimed series (1988).
In 1985, Thompson was cast in the revival of the musical, co-starring. It provided a breakthrough in her career, as the production earned rave reviews. She played the role of Sally Smith for 15 months, which exhausted the actress; she later remarked "I thought if I did the fucking "" one more time I was going to fucking throw up." At the end of 1985, she wrote and starred in her own one-off special for, Emma Thompson: Up for Grabs.
Thompson achieved another breakthrough in 1987, when she had leading roles in two television miniseries:, a drama co-starring, and, a dark-comedy about a Scottish rock band with. For these performances, Thompson won the for. The following year, she wrote and starred in her own sketch comedy series for BBC,, but this was poorly received. In 1989, she and Branagh—who had formed a romantic relationship—starred in a stage revival of, directed by and produced by Branagh's. Later that year, the pair starred in a televised version of the play.
Thompson's first cinema appearance came in the romantic comedy (1989), the feature-film debut from screenwriter. It starred as a West End actor, and Thompson played the nurse with whom he falls in love. The film was not widely seen, but Thompson's performance was praised in, where Caryn James called her "an exceptionally versatile comic actress". She next turned to, appearing as in Branagh's screen adaptation of (1989). The film was released to great critical acclaim.
1990–93: A leading British actress
Thompson and Branagh are considered by American writer and critic to have led the "British cinematic onslaught" in the 1990s. She continued to experiment with Shakespeare in the new decade, appearing with Branagh in his stage productions of and. Reviewing the latter, the praised her "extraordinary" performance of the "hobbling, stooped hunchback ". Thompson returned to cinema in 1991, playing a "frivolous aristocrat" in with and. and Thompson was nominated for at the. Her second release of 1991 was another pairing with Branagh, who also directed, in the Los Angeles-based. She played a woman who has forgotten her identity. Early in 1992, Thompson had a guest role in an episode of as 's first wife.
A turning point in Thompson's career came when she was cast opposite and in the period drama (1992), based on by. The film explored the social class system in, with Thompson playing an idealistic, intellectual, forward-looking woman who comes into association with a privileged and deeply conservative family. She actively pursued the role by writing to director, who agreed to an audition and then gave her the part. According to the critic, the film allowed Thompson to "[come] into her own", away from Branagh. Upon release, wrote that she was "superb in the central role: quiet, ironic, observant, with steel inside."Howards End was widely praised, a "surprise hit", and received nine nominations. Among its three wins was the trophy for Thompson, who was also awarded a and for her performance. Reflecting on the role, The New York Times writes that the actress "found herself an international success almost overnight."
For her next two films, Thompson returned to working with Branagh. In (1992), the pair starred with Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie,, and as a group of Cambridge alumni who are reunited ten years after graduating. The comedy was positively reviewed, and of wrote that Thompson was its highlight: "Even as a rather one-dimensional character, she exudes grace and an adroit sense of comic tragedy." She followed this with Branagh's screen version of (1993). The couple starred as Beatrice and Benedick, alongside a cast that also included,, and. Thompson was widely praised for the on-screen chemistry with Branagh and the natural ease with which she played the role marking another critical success for Thompson. Her performance earned a nomination for at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Thompson reunited with Merchant–Ivory and Anthony Hopkins to film (1993), a film which has been described as a "classic" and the production team's definitive film. Based on 's about a housekeeper and butler in 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. She has named the film as one of the greatest experiences of her career, considering it to be a "masterpiece of withheld emotion".The Remains of the Day was a critical and commercial success, receiving eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and a second Best Actress nod for Thompson.
Along with her Best Actress nomination at the, Thompson was also nominated in the category, making her the eighth performer in history to be. It came for her role as the lawyer in (1993), a drama about the starring. The film was her second hit of the year, earning million and critical praise, and was nominated for Best Picture along with The Remains of the Day.
1994–98: Sense and Sensibility and Hollywood roles
In 1994, Thompson made her debut playing a goofy doctor alongside and in the blockbuster. Although the male pregnancy storyline was poorly received by most critics and flopped at the box office, of the praised the lead trio. She returned to for a lead role in, which studied the platonic relationship between artist and writer (played by ). Roger Ebert remarked that Thompson had "developed a specialty in unrequited love", and the TV Guide Film & Video Companion commented that her "neurasthenic mannerisms, which usually drive us batty, are appropriate here".
Thompson's Academy success continued with (1995), generally considered to be the most popular and authentic of the numerous film adaptions of 's novels made in the 1990s. Thompson—a lifelong lover of Austen's work—was hired to write the film based on the period sketches in her series Thompson. She spent five years developing the screenplay, and took the role of the spinster sister despite, at 35, being 16 years older than the literary character. Directed by and co-starring, Sense and Sensibility received widespread critical praise and is one of the highest-grossing films of Thompson's career. Shelly Frome remarked that she displayed a "great affinity for Jane Austen's style and wit", and Graham Fuller of saw her as the film's. Thompson received a third nomination for Best Actress and won the award for, making her the only person in history to win an Oscar for both acting and writing. She also earned a second and a.
Thompson was absent from screens in 1996, but returned the following year with 's directorial debut,. 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. She then returned to America to appear in an episode of, and her self-parodying performance received a for.
For her second Hollywood role, Thompson starred with in 's (1998), playing a couple based on and. Thompson's character, Susan, is described as that of an "ambitious, long-suffering wife" who has to deal with her husband's infidelity. The film was critically well received but lost money at the box office. According to of the, Americans were "blown away" by her performance and accent, and top Hollywood producers became increasingly interested in casting her. Thompson rejected many of the offers, expressing concerns about living in Los Angeles behind walls with bodyguards, and stated "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, which influenced her decision to leave film for a year. Thompson followed Primary Colors by playing an agent opposite Rickman in the poorly received thriller (1998).
2000s: Smaller rolesThompson at the London premiere of, 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. She was not seen on screen again until 2000, with only a small part in the British comedy, which she appeared in as a favour to its director, her friend.
For the television film (2001), however, Thompson happily took the lead role in what she felt was "one of the best scripts to have come out of America". Adapted from 's winning, it focuses on a self-sufficient professor who finds her values challenged when she is diagnosed with. Thompson was instrumental in bringing Mike Nichols to direct the project, and the pair spent months in rehearsal to get the complex character right. She was greatly drawn to the "daredevil" role, for which she had no qualms about shaving her head. 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. 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." The film earned Thompson nominations at the, and.
Thompson's only credit of 2002 was a in 's, an adaptation of, where she voiced Captain Amelia. The animation earned far less than its large budget and was considered a "box office disaster". This failure was countered the following year by one of Thompson's biggest commercial successes, 's romantic comedy. As part of an ensemble cast that included,, and, 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", and in 2013, Thompson mentioned that she gets commended for this role more than any other. She explained, "I've had so much bloody practice at crying in a bedroom then having to go out and be cheerful, gathering up the pieces of my heart and putting them in a drawer." Her performance received a BAFTA nomination for.
Thompson continued with supporting roles in the 2003 drama, where she played a dissident-journalist abducted by the country's. played the husband who tries to find her, in a film that most critics disliked. The film was booed and jeered at when it was screened at the and received a scathing article in The Guardian. Thompson had greater success that year when she worked with HBO for a second time in the acclaimed miniseries (2003). The show, also featuring and, dealt with the in -era America. Thompson played three roles – a nurse, a homeless woman, and the title role of The Angel of America – and was again nominated for an Emmy Award. In 2004, she played the eccentric Divination teacher in the third, the, her character described as a "hippy chick professor who teaches fortune-telling". She later reprised her role in the (2007) and the (2011), and has called her time on the popular franchise "great fun".
"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 and, which she wrote and starred in.
The year 2005 saw the release of a project Thompson had been working on for nine years. Loosely based on the stories that she read as a child, Thompson wrote the screenplay for the children's film – which centres on a mysterious, unsightly nanny who must discipline a group of children. She also took the lead role, alongside and, in what was a highly personal project. The film was a success, taking number one at the UK box office and earning 2 million worldwide. 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". The following year, Thompson appeared in the surreal American comedy–drama, playing a novelist whose latest character (played by ) is a real person who hears her narration in his head. Reviews for the film were generally favourable.
Following a brief, uncredited role in the post-apocalyptic blockbuster (2007), Thompson played the devoutly Catholic Lady Marchmain in a of. Critics were unenthusiastic about the film, but several picked Thompson out as its highlight. said "Emma Thompson is to some extent becoming the new, 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". Thompson was further acclaimed for her work in the London-based romance (2008), where she and 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. 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 and as a "tippling mother" in Richard Curtis's.
2010s: Veteran performer
Five years after the original, Thompson returned to Nanny McPhee with 2010's. Her screenplay transported the story to Britain during the, and incorporated a new cast including. Building on the first film's success, it was another UK box office number one and the sequel was widely seen as an improvement. The same year, Thompson reunited with Alan Rickman for the BBC television film, which focused on two unnamed characters meeting at a restaurant 15 years after ending their relationship. Thompson's performance earned her a fourth Emmy Award nomination.
In 2012, Thompson made a rare appearance in a big-budget Hollywood film when she played the head Agent in – a continuation of the starring. With a worldwide gross of 4 million, MIB3 is Thompson's biggest commercial hit outside of the Harry Potter films. This mainstream success continued with the film, in which Thompson voiced Elinor – the Scottish queen despairing at her daughter's defiance against tradition. It was her second consecutive blockbuster release, and critics were generally kind to the film. Also in 2012, Thompson played in an episode of, which dramatised an incident in 1982 when an intruder broke into the Queen's bedroom. Her first film of 2013 was the fantasy romance, in which she played an evil mother. The film aimed to capitalise on the success of, but was poorly reviewed and a. Film critic was critical of Thompson's performance and "outrageously awful Southern accent", and feared "the damage this crock may do to [her] reputation".Thompson at the premiere of, September 2013
Conversely, her next appearance was so successful that it led one journalist to write "Emma Thompson is back, firing on all cylinders." depicted the making of, and starred Thompson as, curmudgeonly author of the source novel, and as. 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". The film was well-received, grossed 2 million worldwide, and critics were unanimous in their praise for Thompson's performance. 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", while 's critic felt that Thompson brought depth to the "predictable" film with "her best performance in years". Thompson was nominated for Best Actress at the BAFTAs, SAGs and Golden Globes, and received the Lead Actress trophy from the. stated that she was "shocked" to see that Thompson did not receive an Academy Award nomination for the film.
The romantic-comedy (2013) gave Thompson her second consecutive leading role, where she and played a divorced couple who reunite to steal his ex-boss's jewellery. In March 2014, she made her first stage appearance in 24 years – and her New York debut – in a production of. 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." She received her sixth Emmy nomination for the televised version of the show. In 2014, Thompson provided the narration for 's film,
The period drama, a project that she had been working on for many years, based on the true-life story of 's disastrous marriage, was written by Thompson but became the subject of a copyright suit before being cleared for cinemas. The American playwright Gregory Murphy claimed short that Thompson's screenplay was an infringement on his play and screenplay, which deals with the same story. Murphy was initially offered a screenwriting fee and co-screenwriting credit with Thompson by Potboiler Productions, the original producers of Effie Gray, in settlement of his claim, but this settlement offer was impugned by Thompson and, the film's subsequent producers who instigated the suit. In March 2013, the judge in the case, after allowing Thompson to submit a second revised screenplay into evidence from which Murphy claimed "some of the most troubling material" had been removed, ruled that while there were similarities, the screenplays were "quite dissimilar in their two approaches to fictionalising the same historical events".Effie Gray was released in October 2014, to a modest reception. Thompson plays and her husband,, plays John Ruskin. They both declined to promote the film.
Thompson's first film of 2015 was, a comedy adapted from the book by, where she appeared opposite and. She next starred with in his directoral debut. Her role was his 77-year-old mother, a Glaswegian foul-mouthed, chain-smoking former prostitute. Neither film was a critical success, although the latter received some positive reviews and magazine wrote that Thomson was "unforgettable". Later that year, she had a supporting role in ' restaurant-based film, alongside. In 2016, she starred with in the World War II-drama, based on the story of. She also co-wrote the screenplay for and appeared in the comedy as a doctor.
In 2017, Thompson appeared as (played by in the ) in 's live action film, directed by and starring with her Harry Potter collaborator in a leading role. It grossed.2 billion worldwide, making it the 14th highest-grossing film of all time. She also had a supporting role as a hippy in 's dramedy, which played in competition at and received critical acclaim. She followed it with a starring role in the film, a drama about a family who refuse cancer treatment for their son based on religious beliefs.
She had a cameo role as in the 2017 Christmas special of the BBC sitcom.
Reception and acting style
Thompson is widely considered to be one of the finest actresses of her generation and one of Britain's best-known actresses, accepted in Hollywood. Early in her career, when she was closely associated with her first husband Kenneth Branagh, she was somewhat unpopular and considered a "". The public warmed to her after the separation, and she became one of the key actresses of the 1990s. Her status has continued to grow; in 2008, journalist Sarah Sands stated that Thompson has improved with age and experience, and said of her performances, "There is something about her which is — you just trust her. You just think 'I'm in proper hands here.' ... She's up there with the great, I mean really great, British female performers".
"I am an instinctive actress. I don't have technique because I never learnt any. I do the cerebral bit before I start. Then I just let it be. I allow whatever rises to rise naturally. You are tricking your subconscious. I work from the inside out."
– Thompson on her approach to acting
Thompson is particularly known for playing reticent women, and Sands describes her as "the best actress of our times on suffering borne with poignant dignity". According to Kate Kellaway of, she specialises in playing "a good woman in a frock". She also plays many haughty characters, with a "bracing, nanny-like demeanour", but she is noted for her ability to win the empathy of audiences. Thompson belongs to a group of highly decorated British actresses including, and who are known for appearing in "" and typically showing "restraint, rendering emotions through intellect rather than feelings, and a sense of irony, which demonstrates the heroine's superior understanding". Projecting a typically "British image", Thompson's often dogmatic and tight-jawed manner has also been compared to.
With a background in comedy, Thompson's performances are typically delivered with an ironic touch. Ang Lee, director of Sense and Sensibility stated that Thompson's comedic approach may be her greatest asset as an actress, remarking, "Emma is an extremely funny lady. Like Austen, she's laughing at her own culture while she's a part of it." Thompson has stated that the "most moving things are often also funny, in life and in art" which is present in her film work. She often brings her real personality to her roles, and Kellaway believes that her lack of conventional beauty contributes to her likeability as an actress.
Thompson, although born in London, has stated she feels Scottish: "not only because I am half Scottish but also because I've spent half my life here". She frequently returns to Scotland and visits in, where she owns a home.
Thompson's first husband was the actor and director, whom she met in 1987 while filming the television series. The couple married in 1989 and proceeded to appear in several films together, with Branagh often casting her in his own productions. Dubbed a "golden couple" by the British media, the relationship received considerable press interest. The pair attempted to keep their relationship private, refusing to be interviewed or photographed together. In September 1995, Thompson and Branagh announced that they had separated; their statement to the press blamed their work schedules, but it later emerged that he had fallen in love with actress.
Thompson was living alone as the relationship with Branagh deteriorated, and entered into. While filming Sense and Sensibility in 1995, she began a relationship with her co-star. Commenting on how she was able to overcome her depression, she told, "Work saved me and Greg saved me. He picked up the pieces and put them together again." The couple had a daughter, Gaia, a pregnancy that was achieved through treatment when Thompson was 39.
In 2003, Thompson and Wise were married in Dunoon. The family's permanent residence is in, London, on the same road as her childhood home. Also in 2003, Thompson and her husband informally adopted a Rwandan orphan and former named Tindyebwa Agaba. They met at a event when he was 16, and she invited him to spend Christmas at their home. "Slowly", Thompson has commented, "he became a sort of permanent fixture, came on holiday to Scotland with us, became part of the family." Agaba became a British citizen in 2009.
Views and activism
Thompson has said of her religious views:
I'm an ... 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.
She is politically and a supporter of the ; she told the BBC Show in 2010 that she had been a member of the party "all my life." Thompson endorsed 's in both the and. She has also expressed support for the.
Thompson has been a campaigner since her youth. Since becoming a public figure she has regularly voiced her views and been involved in many issues, prompting criticism that she is overly outspoken. In 2010, asked: "Emma Thompson: a national treasure or Britain's most annoying woman?" She has justified her assertiveness by saying, "what I feel is that we all need to speak up and a woman who has got a louder voice needs to shout very loudly indeed."
She is particularly active in work. As an ambassador for the charity she has travelled to,,,, and. She is chair of the, a patron of the, and has a therapy room in her office for traumatised refugees. Thompson is also an activist for, having been a member of the British-based ENOUGH! coalition that seeks to end the "Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank." She is a patron of the, and in 2009 named her a "European Hero" in recognition of "her work to highlight the plight of AIDS sufferers in Africa."
Aside from humanitarian work, Thompson is also an active. She is a supporter of, and in January 2009, as part of her campaign against, she and three other members of the organisation bought land near the village of to deter the building of a for. In August 2014, Thompson and her daughter, Gaia, went on a Greenpeace "" expedition to raise awareness of the dangers of. She narrated 's, a documentary short about and its efforts to discredit climate research. The film was released on 31 October 2016. She is also an ambassador for the.Thompson with the award she was given during the 'Presentation of the Crystal Award' at the Annual Meeting 2008 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2008
In 2012, Thompson wrote The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit as an addition to the series by to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the publication of. She was approached by the publishers to write it, the first authorised Peter story since 1930 and the only one not written by Potter. 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. In 2013, Thompson wrote a second book in the series titled The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Filmography and awards
Main articles: and
As of July 2017, Thompson has appeared in 44 films, 20 television programmes and eight stage productions. She has won and been nominated for many awards during her career, including five nominations (winning two), nine nominations (winning two), seven nominations (winning three), and six nominations (winning one).
Thompson was appointed (DBE) in the for services to drama.
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Films about Emma Thompson
- The Many Faces of Emma Thompson (2016, Germany, 53 min.), a TV documentary released by Sabine Lidl.
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