Woman Crush Wednesday: Emma Thompson


Emma Thompson has been one of my top crushes since day one — that would be when I saw her playing the reluctant yet forthright Princess Katherine de Valois opposite her then-husband Kenneth Branagh as Henry V in 1989. In fact, it was their movie collaborations — like the historical costume movies, Henry V, Dead Again (1991), and Much Ado About Nothing (1993) — that made me fall hard for Thompson (OK, and Branagh too, and I was annoyed at him for cheating on Emma with Helena Bonham Carter; perhaps Wild Wild West (1999) and still not winning an Oscar are his penance).

There’s so many things to admire and adore about Emma Thompson, as an actor, artist, and woman. She chooses a wide variety of roles and fully inhabits each one, from light comedy to deep tragedy and everything in between. She’s incredibly subtle but can play broad if needed. She changes her voice and body language adeptly to convey a character.

She’s known for playing the classic ‘reserved Englishwoman in period films’ and won the Best Actress Oscar for such a role in Howards End (1992), but that’s not the end of her talents. Emma Thompson is a writer, and she wrote the screenplay for Sense and Sensibility (1995) — which I can safely say is one of the most popular Jane Austen film adaptions around, not just for the costumes, but for the excellent script, which won Thompson the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. She is, so far, the only person, much the less the only woman, to earn both an acting and screenwriting Oscar. Thompson also wrote the screenplay for Effie Gray (2014), although the film had a hard time getting into theaters in the U.K. due to copyright issues and never got a wide release in the U.S.

Finally, she’s just an interesting woman. Thompson is vocal about being an atheist, she’s worked for environmental causes, and she supports Palestinian refugees. Her activism isn’t mere talk either. She and her second husband (actor Greg Wise, who played John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility) adopted a Rwandan orphan and former child solider so the teen could have a better life in the U.K. (and he grew up to become a human rights lawyer). That’s using your celebrity for good.

So huzzah for Emma Thompson! Funny, smart, committed to her causes, and easy on the eyes too. She’s the whole package. I don’t know if I want to do her or be her, either would be an honor.

Emma Thompson

The WWII-period TV miniseries Fortunes of War (1987), where Emma Thompson & Kenneth Branagh met.

Emma Thompson

Delightful as Henry V’s “French princess” Katherine de Valois in 1989.

From 1991’s Impromptu, one of Thompson’s most hilarious historical roles as Duchess D’Antan hosting a bunch of parasitic 1830s artists. Her reactions in this scene are priceless:

Emma Thompson

Emma got a bit vampy for the 1940s flashbacks in Dead Again (1991), so good!

Emma Thompson

More Dead Again, too hard to pick just one.

Emma Thompson

With Anthony Hopkins from her Oscar-winning role as Margaret Schlegel in Howards End (1992).

Emma Thompson

Emma & Ken’s last glowy romantic pairing as in Much Ado About Nothing (1993), though I’ve never figured out what period this is supposed to be set in. It’s randomly pretty!

Emma Thompson

Her Oscar-winning screenplay for Sense and Sensibility (1995) perhaps overshadowed her role.

Emma Thompson

The only good thing about the 2008 Brideshead Revisited reboot was Emma as Lady Marchmain.

In Saving Mr. Banks (2013), Thompson takes a short trip back to the 1960s, but plays the terribly complicated character of P.L. Travers, writer of the Mary Poppins books:

Emma Thompson

And her most recent historical costume film is Effie Gray (2014), which Emma Thompson wrote the script for and plays Lady Eastlake.


This is just the tip of the iceberg that is her work in film and  TV, historical and otherwise. What’s your favorite Emma Thompson movie?



About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

16 Responses

  1. MoHub

    Believe it or not, I’ve always had a soft spot for The Tall Guy .

      • MoHub

        I adore the sex montage. Only Thompson could get away with that.

        Also very fond of the Elephant! musical. Such a lovely slap at Andrew Lloyd Weber. “Somewhere up in Heaven there’s an angel with big ears.”

    • M.E. Lawrence

      Oh, yes! Emma is a brilliant comic; it worries me that this is not part of her popular image.

      • Kathy Gustafson

        I love her as an actress but she’s a brilliant comedienne. Another fave is Stranger than Fiction and in Men in Black III she had me roaring.

  2. Stephen Barker

    Talented as Emma Thompson is, I felt that see was to old for the role see played in Sense & Sensibility. It jarred when I watched the film.

    • Amanda

      Sure, Emma was 36 rather than the 19 Elinor is supposed to be in the beginning of S&S, but Alan Rickman was 49 rather than 35. Wonder why she jarred and he didn’t? Kate and Hugh were older than their parts, too. Emma herself has spoken extensively about the ageism and double standards of the film industry and the sharp decline in offers experienced by actors once they hit a certain age… when those actors happen to also be women. Personally, I’d rather watch wonderful actors play parts that are well suited to them than worry about age.

  3. LLC

    I first fell in love with Emma when I saw her comedy series… called “thompson” in the UK, on PBS I think… its been a while (1988?) The Fortunes of War…. I just really like her. Adult, real, no mess, no muss.

  4. JoanPeel

    “Wit” — totally not a period flick, but soooo good.

  5. susan l eiffert

    Love getting caught up with these old posts! I think she’s pretty wonderful, too. It was good to learn these things about her. I first saw her on stage ca. 1984 in Leicester in the UK with Robert Lindsay in a revival of Me and My Gal, before it opened in London. She had me right then and there.

    • M.E. Lawrence

      The old posts are always easy to get lost in. Was just remembering that my husband has had crushes on both Emma and Fiona Shaw, who are rather similar types.