Thursday, April 15, 2010

Birthday Girls: Emma Thompson

I hate to crowd Julie Christie, whose tribute just went up yesterday, but for this you will have to blame Eric Thompson and Phyllida Law, who brought Emma Thompson into the world the day after the Darling's eighteenth birthday. I have no control over these sorts of scheduling issues. And anyway, it's impossible to feel anything except cosmic, perpetual, imperturbable gratitude toward Eric Thompson and Phyllida Law. They furnished to the world one of its great human beings, and even if she's been absent from the screen a bit more of late than I selfishly prefer, there's even more to savor in her filmography than some viewers might realize. All hail our fair lady.

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Blogger Tim said...

My God, you go from a monthlong break to two stellar essays right on top of one another - too much to keep track of!

On topic: Thompson is one of those names that no matter what, I'm always grateful to see in the credits, and you've done an excellent job of explaining why. I genuinely can't think of anything to add, other than to mention that her impending turn in a Pixar film (December 2011) is almost too much fannish goodness for me to surivive.

12:16 AM, April 15, 2010  
Blogger Sam Brooks said...

I have little to say other than thanking you for this awesome write-up of one of my favourite actresses! It's truly astounding and I really can't wait for more.

1:51 AM, April 15, 2010  
Blogger Guy Lodge said...

I feel your blog should borrow a subtitle from The Sugarcubes: "Stick around for joy." Just one day after your impeccable Christie essay ... and now this? I can't help fearing that you're buttering me up ahead of some unspeakable horror: a 5000-word celebration of Thandie Newton, perhaps, or an announcement that you've decided to retire from the writing game to focus on a career in finance.

In the meantime, however, this is another piece that really registered with me on a personal level, as Thompson also served as my guide of sorts into serious cinema. I was nine when my parents took me to see "Howards End," and thought it was handily the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, and Thompson the most refined. Then the 1992 Oscar trail started, upon which I was both surprised and delighted to learn that she was really just an adorable goof, before "The Remains of the Day" (my favourite film of all time, for about one frenzied month after seeing it) plunged me back into hushed reverence.

At that point, I rather naively thought of Merchant-Ivory as the pinnacle of cinematic artistry, but while I kind of left them behind as adolescence hit and I got serious about exploring the canon, Thompson continued to please.

(It's interesting that you mention the Streep-Thompson relay race of 1995 -- is it just a coincidence that that's the same year Merchant-Ivory ditched the winning Hopkins-Thompson formula and began losing the plot? The inexperienced loyalist in me tried to like "Jefferson in Paris," but by the time "Surviving Picasso" hit, we were done professionally. I was 13 and I knew better.)

Anyway, among the many pleasures in this piece, I'm glad to read such generous words for her lovely miniature in "Love, Actually," the bedroom scene of which elevates it to the ranks of her very best performances, I think -- she was, and remains, my 2003 Best Supporting Actress winner. (And that was after a spell in which I thought I'd gone off her a bit -- no "Angels in America" fan am I.)

Interesting to see you make no mention of her wonderful TV work in "Fortunes of War," which my parents credit for turning them onto both Ken and Em in the 1980s, and which I was similarly impressed by when I caught up with it years later. Have you seen it?

Sorry for the long comment -- you bring out the enthusiast in me!

3:54 AM, April 15, 2010  
Blogger Andrew K. said...

Just to say the obvious,excellent writeup. Other than the one on the Late Great Kate this is my favourite. I'm still very nonplussed about Much Ado's poor response. I won't say it's my favourite Emma, but it's really something excellent.

( This is such a thorny thing to say for obvious reasons, but I think the only Branagh woman worthy of Emma's Beatrice is HBC's Olivia...but that may be nepotism...)

8:01 AM, April 15, 2010  
Blogger James T said...

Perhaps the most passionate, yet formal love letter I've ever read! She must print it and carry it in her pocket all the time. It would eliminate every negative thought life might make her have.

I love her, my mum loves her, even the air that touches her loves her. Tilda has said that she didn't want to be in a corset in Merchant Ivory films. I like to think she meant that there was no one better than Emma for these roles.

10:11 AM, April 15, 2010  
Blogger Michael Shetina said...

Nick, thank you so much for both of these stellar essays! Great tributes to great artists. I am beginning to enjoy these more than your Oscar writeups.

11:50 AM, April 15, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim: I am nothing if not erratic. I didn't know she was doing a Pixar voice, but given how often she's sprung for cameo roles and animation voiceovers, this indeed seems like an ideal match.

@Brook: Thanks!

@Guy: The only way for the world economy to be in worse shape than it is would be for me to start a career in finance. Don't worry about that. Lovely to hear that our Emma Awakenings went so similarly, as I'm sure a lot of people's did. I never have caught up with Fortunes of War; she used to refer to it frequently during those Merchant Ivory-era interviews, but I had no access to it at the time, and I've never tied up the loose end. I'm not a big fan of that Angels adaptation, either, nor was I wholly sold on the made-for-TV Look Back in Anger that she and Ken did back in the late 80s, under the co-direction of Judi Dench. But it's kind of hard for me to imagine loving any production of that play. One of the jewels in her TV crown, though, was her glorious, Emmy-winning guest-starring role as "herself" on an early episode of Ellen, and I wish I'd found a way to incorporate it. Ellen worked briefly as her personal assistant, and we learned that Em wore a tiara and an empire-waist dress around her apartment... until the revelation that she's actually a trailer-park girl from Ohio, pretending to be English for the good roles. She ends the episode as a waitress.

@A:EE: I've actually never seen that Twelfth Night and thus cannot comment, but I probably will when it comes time to write up HBC for one of these pages.

@Jim and @Michael: Thanks to you both! Hopefully Emma wouldn't mind me arching my brow at that Brideshead performance, and will still agree to carry the letter. Tilda in Merchant Ivory is indeed a distasteful thought, though Emma going conceptual and subversive for Derek Jarman would have been luscious, and fully plausible.

12:55 PM, April 15, 2010  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

@Nick -- just wanted to say that I'm thrilled someone else has finally agreed with me that Much Ado About Nothing is her best performance in 1993 -- if it weren't for Holly Hunter's Piano work that year I'd almost be tempted to say "best of year"

@Guy -- i hate it when people are proud to have moved on from Merchant/Ivory. Just saying. They get such little respect but they made such wonderful films for such a good stretch. I think the fact that they became their own subgenre and there were so many inferior imitations of their style really blinded people to their brilliance.

12:45 AM, April 21, 2010  
Blogger Guy Lodge said...

Nathaniel: You misunderstand me. (Or more to the point, I expressed myself poorly.) I'll never have moved on from good Merchant-Ivory, from Shakespeare Wallah through to The Remains of the Day. It's just that when I got to know their work as a pre-teen, I thought they were the be-all and end-all of cinema: that obviously changed with the combination of my expanded film education and their creative collapse, but I still treasure their best work. (Howards End remains the gold standard for for literary period drama, in my mind.)

7:25 AM, April 21, 2010  
Blogger Glenn said...

I tried to find The Winter Guest on the Australian DVD service (akin to Netflix) and they don't have it. I am shattered.

What a fabulous write up. I do love this woman even though I haven't seen some of her more high profile work - can you believe Howards End is not on DVD?!? - and agree with you about Much Ado About Nothing and Last Chance Harvey.

9:36 PM, April 21, 2010  
Blogger Guy Lodge said...

Glenn: "Howards End" is readily available on DVD here, so you must be able to dig up an import copy somewhere. Did Emma Thompson do something to offend the Australian DVD gods?

2:43 AM, April 22, 2010  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

Guy, there are seemingly many, many high profile movies that have either never been released on DVD or were once released, but are now out of print and not available anywhere. It's silly and annoying and I just don't know why...

2:48 AM, April 23, 2010  
Blogger Unknown said...

Emma Thompson, for me, is one of the reasons I love the work of screen actresses.

She tends to have a surprise up her sleeve with every performance.

To me she is equal with Dame Helen Mirrem in the acting chops department, that half step below the supreme actress of the last 30 years, Meryl Streep.

What a pure delight it is, Nick, to read your sharp and wonderfully witty posts these past three months.

Mega hairy muscle hugs of thanks for sharing your indepth knowledge of everything film with the rest of us.

12:49 PM, June 17, 2010  
Anonymous Picking up Women said...

And anyway, it's impossible to feel anything except cosmic, perpetual, imperturbable gratitude toward Eric Thompson and Phyllida Law.

10:32 PM, March 23, 2011  
Anonymous Guide to getting girls said...

And anyway, it's impossible to feel anything except cosmic, perpetual, imperturbable gratitude toward Eric Thompson and Phyllida Law.

4:44 AM, April 26, 2011  

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