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‘Love, Actually’: Emma Thompson Reveals Heartbreaking Joni Mitchell Scene Inspired by Kenneth Branagh Divorce

In the beloved holiday rom-com, the actress plays a woman who discovers her husband is cheating. Turns out, her most wrenching scene sprang from experience.

“Love, Actually”


For all its charms — and there are many, including at least one child in a handmade octopus costume, Hugh Grant dancing a lot, and Colin Firth proposing in a crowded restaurant using only very haltingly acquired Portuguese — Richard Curtis’ beloved rom-com “Love, Actually” is actually filled with a whole lot of pain. There’s the subplot about Liam Neeson’s character’s dead wife, an entire narrative thread devoted to the personal sacrifices made by Laura Linney’s character, and then there’s what happens to Emma Thompson’s dedicated wife and mother, Karen.

In the 2003 holiday-set feature, Karen’s plot involves the discovery that her husband Harry (the late Alan Rickman) is cheating on her with his secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch). It’s a slow build, complete with a very uncomfortable party scene and an admittedly strange journey to a department store manned by Rowan Atkinson and a whole mess of cinnamon sticks, but when it hits, it hits. During the second half of the film, Karen sneaks a peek at what she thinks is a present for her — a lovely heart-shaped necklace — and when she opens her wrapped gifts a few days later, she is dismayed to find that it’s not the necklace she’s getting, it’s a Joni Mitchell double disc.

The implication is clear to both her and the audience: the necklace is for Mia. Distraught, Karen briefly hides upstairs in her and Harry’s bedroom where she cries, appropriately enough, to the jams of Joni Mitchell (specifically, “Both Sides Now”). Now, the Telegraph has revealed the real-life inspiration for the scene, thanks to some honest words from Thompson herself.

“That scene where my character is standing by the bed crying is so well known because it’s something everyone’s been through,” the actress reportedly said at a fundraiser for the Tricycle Theatre in North West London on Sunday.

The outlet adds that “Thompson was referring to her relationship with Kenneth Branagh, who she fell in love with in 1987 when they starred as newlyweds in the BBC drama ‘Fortunes Of War.'” The pair married in 1989, but their relationship ended when Branagh met fellow actress Helena Bonham Carter while filming “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” and the duo notoriously embarked on an affair. Thompson and Branagh divorced in 1995 (Branagh and Bonham Carter stayed together until 1999).

“I had my heart very badly broken by Ken,” Thompson said. “So I knew what it was like to find the necklace that wasn’t meant for me. Well, it wasn’t exactly that, but we’ve all been through it.”

When asked by the outlet about her experience, she added, “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.”

Need a refresher on that seminal “Love, Actually” sequence? Break out the tissues and revisit it below.

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