Emma Thompson was born in Paddington, London, England, into a family of actors. Her mother, Phyllida Law, has acted with Thompson on several films. Thompson’s sister, Sophie, is an actress as well. Thompson was a popular and bright student at Cambridge University, where she studied English Literature and was part of the university’s Footlights Group, the famous group where many of the Monty Python members first met. Graduating in 1980, Thompson embarked on her entertainment career, beginning with stints on BBC Radio and touring with comedy shows. She got her first major break in television, on the 1983 comedy skit program Alfresco, writing and performing along with her fellow Footlights Group alums Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Thompson found herself collaborating again with Fry in 1985, this time in his stage adaptation of the play Me and My Girl in London’s West End, in which she had a leading role, playing Sally Smith. She won rave reviews and the role led to her being cast as the lead in the 1987 BBC television miniseries Fortunes of War. She and her co-star in the series, Kenneth Branagh married in 1989. They continued to work together professionally and they even formed a production company together. In the late 80s and early 90s, she starred in a string of well-received and successful television and film productions, such as 1992’s Howards End,for which earned trans-Atlantic honors with both an Academy Award and a BAFTA award. She divorced Branagh in 1994 and is now married to fellow actor Greg Wise, who she co-starred with in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility. Over the years, Thompson has showcased her talent with classic wit in period pieces as well as more timely movies. i> In honor of her 55th birthday, here is a Top 10 list of Emma Thompson movies.
10. Nanny McPhee: This 2005 British fantasy film was adapted from Christianna Brand’s Nurse Matilda books and scripted by Thompson. Thompson starred as the title character, a hideous looking governess, who uses magic to curb the behavior of the seven unruly charges. A fun, whimsical tale co-starring Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury, Imelda Staunton, Thomas Sangster and Adam Godley, it received positive reviews from critics. Thompson would star with Firth, Sangster and Godley again in the 2003 comedy Love Actually.
9. Stranger Than Fiction: This 2006 dramedy fantasy had Thompson co-starring with funnyman Will Ferrell. Thompson played Karen Eiffel, who’s writing a story about an IRS tax auditor (Ferrell) and his personal problems, but is suffering from writer’s block. Ferrell’s character begins to hear narration only he can hear and it begins to affect his entire life. Co-starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Queen Latifah, Dustin Hoffman and Kristen Chenowith, the movie received mainly positive reviews and showed Thompson in a somewhat comedic light against the usually hilarious Ferrell, who was praised for his previously unknown dramatic acting talent.
8. Primary Colors: This 1998 drama was based on the novel Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics, about Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992. It was originally published anonymously, but in 1996, it was revealed to have been written by journalist Joe Klein, who had been covering Clinton’s campaign for Newsweek. Directed by Mike Nichols, Thompson co-starred with John Travolta, Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Maura Tierney, the late Larry Hagman, Diane Ladd, Paul Guilfoyle and Rob Reiner. Thompson starred as Susan Stanton, the wife of the charming, Southern governor Jack Stanton (Travolta,) who was vying to win the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States. Thompson played the formidable wife to a tea, as her on-screen pairing with Travolta really mirrored some of Clinton’s political troubles before he became The Most Powerful Man in the World.
7. Howards End: This 1992 romantic drama based upon the novel of the same name by E. M. Forster, which was published in 1910 and was a tale of class relations in turn-of-the-20th-century England. It received nine Academy Award nominations and won Thompson the Academy Award for Best Actress. Thompson co-starred with Sir Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter and Vanessa Redgrave. The story takes place in Edwardian England and centers around three families who represent three different social classes: the wealthy Wilcoxes, the middle class Schlegel sisters and the Basts, who are down on their luck. Engagements between the three families form, dissension ensues as feelings of social embarrassment swell as well as a bevy of miscommunications. The movie received critical acclaim and the late Roger Ebert even included it on his “Great Movies” list.
6. Men in Black 3: Thompson had a small, yet pivotal role in this 2012 science fiction comedy. Co-starring with Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Alice Eve and David Rasche, Thompson played the older Agent O, Agent J and Agent K’s new boss. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, this second sequel was set 15 years after the events in the wildly popular original 1997 film. It was the third installment in the film series based on Lowell Cunningham’s The Men in Black comic book series. Here, Agent J (Smith) goes back in time to save an alien from killing Agent K (Jones) in the past and changing history. Thompson played Agent O with skillful accuracy as she delivered totally hysterical dialogue with a completely straight face.
5. Junior: This 1994 romantic comedy had Thompson co-starring with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, Frank Langella, Pamela Reed, James Eckhouse and Megan Cavanagh. Thompson played Dr. Diana Redden, whounknowingly takes over the research lab of research geneticist Dr. Alex Hesse (Schwarzenegger,) whose colleague, obstetrician Dr. Larry Arbogast (DeVito) persuades him to become pregnant through the use of a new wonder drug. Thompson and Schwarzenegger made a wonderful comedic twosome as their characters fell in love and learned that the baby Schwarzenegger’s character was carrying Thompson’s character’s own frozen egg, which DeVito’s character accidently procured.
4. Sense and Sensibility: This 1995 British-American period drama was based on Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, directed by Ang Lee and Thompson wrote the script. Co-starring a young pre-Titanic Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Gemma Jones, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, James Fleet, Harriet Walter and Greg Wise, Thompson played Elinor Dashwood. The story followed Elinor and her younger sisters, Marianne (Winslet,) and Margaret (played by Emilie François,) who are left with a minor inheritance after their wealthy father dies and leaves the bulk of his estate to his son, John, (Fleet) and his greedy wife, Fanny (Walter.) Miscommunications, betrayals, love lost and love found fill this tale. The film was a commercial success earning seven Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Thompson.
3. Love Actually: This 2003 romantic drama had Thompson starring with a wonderful ensemble cast that included many actors she’d shared the screen with previously such as Hugh Grant, Billy Bob Thornton and Alan Rickman. The talented cast also included Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Bill Nighy, Keira Knightley, a pre-The Walking Dead Andrew Lincoln, a pre-Game of Thrones Thomas Sangster, Rowan Atkinson, January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards and Rodrigo Santoro. Directed by Richard Curtis, moviegoers followed the lives of eight different people through their troubled love lives in various lightly interconnected tales set during the frenzied month before Christmas in London, England. Thompson played Karen, who was a good friend to the recently widowed Daniel (Neeson,) wife of Harry (Rickman,) the managing director of a design agency and the sister of David, The Prime Minister (Grant.) Thompson played both comedy with Grant and more serious with Rickman when she learns that he bought an expensive necklace for his young and beautiful new secretary Mia (played by Heike Makatsch) and confronts him about its meaning. The movie received mixed reviews in the US, but garnered positive reviews in Britain, no doubt because of Thompson’s contribution. On a personal note, I don’t let Christmas go by without watching this delightful comedy.
2. Dead Again: This 1991 psychological thriller was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also starred in the film with then-wife Thompson. Thompson played dual roles as Grace, an amnesiac looking to recover her identity amidst frightful nightmares that haunt her and Margaret Strauss, a murdered pianist, who was killed in 1949. Branagh also played dual roles of a private detective named Mike Church, who tries to help Grace recover her identity and musical composer, Roman Strauss, who was put to death for the brutal murder of his wife, Margaret back in 1949. Also starring Derek Jacobi, Andy Garcia, Wayne Knight and Robin Williams, the film goes back and forth showing Roman and Margaret’s courtship, marriage and her vicious death, in black and white, and showing Grace and Mike falling in love, in color, as well. Deception, past lives, karma and misunderstandings run rampant through this film that will keep you on the edge of your seat until its thrilling climax. Well-received by critics, the late Roger Ebert gave it a four-star review. If you want to watch a thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end, Dead Again is it!
1. Much Ado About Nothing: This 1993 romantic dramedy was based on William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. It was adapted for the screen and directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also stars in the film along with then-wife Thompson. Set in Messina, Italy, Thompson played Beatrice, who banters wildly with nobleman Benedick (Branagh,) as they vehemently deny their feelings for each other by throwing stinging verbal barbs back and forth. Co-starring Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Robert Sean Leonard, a young Kate Beckinsale (in her motion picture debut,) Imelda Staunton, Michael Keaton, Phyllida Law and Brian Blessed, confusion, comedic happenings, trickery, duplicity, but ultimate redemption and joy fill this feel good movie. Thompson and Branagh’s timing as a romantic duo was spot on as their characters both finally gave in and admitted their passion for each other when everyone else knew all along and tried to push together no matter how much they resisted. If you’re in the mood for some old-fashioned comedy mixed with some treachery in a breathtaking setting, told by one of the greatest playwrights who ever lived, then I highly recommend seeing Much Ado About Nothing!