I just watched Last Chance Harvey and it made me realize how much I really enjoy watching Emma Thompson practice her craft. She's such a terrific actress and has made some movies even more enjoyable by her presence. Here are some of my favorites:
Howard's End was one of her first major movies and won her the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. I watched it again recently and was surprised that it was the best performance that year, and still have trouble understanding what the voters saw that made them choose her, but perhaps it was the amazing potential she has. She plays a young woman who gets to know a wealthy family, befriending the matriarch and ultimately marrying the father when she dies. I guess in lesser hands, the role could contain a lot of smarmy deceit, but Thompson plays her with such innocence and strength that you beliive she just lucked into everything that happens.
Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite Shakespearean play turned into a movie, in large part because of the wonderful banter between Thompson and her then husband, Kenneth Branagh. She plays Beatrice, the cousin of the lead, a young Kate Beckinsale. Beatrice is known as a shrewish woman who will never marry because no man could put up with her. Thompson shows her spirit constantly by helping her cousin's attempt to regain her honor while arguing with Branagh's Benedick. Robert Sean Leonard also makes it amazing, but I love Thompson throughout.
Her next film, Remains of the Day, I constantly got confused with Howard's End (hence the rewatching), though they're completely different except that they're both period films starring Thompson and Anthony Hopkins.
My favorite movie of all time, Sense and Sensibility, which Thompson won an Oscar for best adapted Screenplay for penning, also stars Thompson as Elinor Dashwood. She falls in love with Edward Ferrars and then finds out he's betrothed to someone else. She can't tell anyone about her distress, but has to watch as her sister (a wonderful Kate Winslet) throws her heart at a man who rejects her, ending them in the same boat. It's such a wonderful adaptation and Thompson's chemistry with Hugh Grant is both restrained, but obviously entrancing.
I know Thompson had terrific performances in In the name of the Father, Primary Colors, and Wit, but the next thing I love her in is Love, Actually. She plays the sister of the Prime Minister who discovers her husband (Alan Rickman) is having an affair. She has a great scene where she's listening to Joni Mitchell and trying not to scream and cry at the realization of the affair. Nothing is said, but every woman I know can empathize with the struggle she's internalizing. I love the small scenes with her daughter. She's just announced she got a part in the Nativity play as a lobster. Thompson responds with incredulity and her daughter says she's the "first lobster", and Thompson's response "there was more than one lobster at the birth of Jesus?" always kills me.
One of the reasons I made the effort to see the HBO production of Angels in America (both parts) was Thompson's appearance in several roles, most notably the angel itself. Her humor and dry wit are a match for Justin Kirk's over the top rage and fear when the angel appears. Meryl Streep and Al Pacino are beyond terrific in this too, but the supporting cast really sells the show. I really want to see this again if only for Thompson's scene breaking through the ceiling.
Thompson's performances in several Harry Potter movies as Professor Trelawny are wonderful, and bring to life all the book promises. Stranger than Fiction pairs Thompson as a depressed and depressing murder writer with Queen Latifah's straight-forward humor trying to help her finish her next book. And Thompson's next foray into screenwriting, Nanny McPhee is a terrific children's story brought to life and Thompson's transformation throughout the film is wonderful.
And her most recent film, Last Chance Harvey, pairs her again with Dustin Hoffman (from Stranger than Fiction). She's an airline employee who meets Hoffman at the end of his worst day (his daughter chose her stepfather to give her away at her wedding, and he lost his job) and they hit it off. She's been suffering taking care of her mother who drives her nuts. They talk all day and all night and spend time figuring out what makes them happy and what doesn't. It's a short film (about 85 minutes) that focuses on these two characters in this one place and time - much like Before Sunrise, and it succeeds well in achieving this small goal. Thompson and Hoffman have terrific chemistry and you believe they might be willing to find ways to overcome their obstacles and create a life together. I really liked it, 4 of 5 stars/lambs.
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