Emma Thompson Reveals The Real-Life Heartbreak That Inspired Her Love Actually Storyline

love actually emma thompson

by Katie Rosseinsky |
Published on

For all its problematic relationships and Christmas card sentiment, there’s one storyline in Love Actually that never fails to break our hearts, its emotional impact never dimmed by years of repeat viewing. We’re talking, of course, about Emma Thompson’s character Karen, who realises that her husband Harry (played by Alan Rickman) is having an affair with his secretary Mia, and about one scene in particular: when Karen retreats to her bedroom after discovering that the necklace Harry has bought is not a Christmas gift for her, but for Mia, and dissolves into tears to the strains of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now.

Now, Thompson has revealed that she drew upon a real-life heartache to bring the scene to life and channelled her memories of the breakdown of her eight-year marriage to actor Kenneth Branagh, who reportedly had an affair with Helena Bonham Carter after meeting on the set of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

‘That scene where my character is standing by the bed crying is so well known because it’s something everyone’s been through,’ Thompson told the audience at a #MeToo fundraising event last night. ‘I had my heart very badly broken by Ken. So I knew it 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.’

In a previous interview with the Sunday Times, Thompson shared her experiences of putting on a brave face through heartbreak, telling the paper ‘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.’

She has since, however, made peace with both Branagh and Bonham Carter, describing the latter as a ‘wonderful woman.’

‘That is […] all blood under the bridge,’ she told the paper. ‘You can’t hold on to anything like that […] It’s pointless. I haven’t go the energy for it. Helena and I made our peace years and years ago.’

NOW READ: A Definitive Ranking Of Love Actually's Problematic Relationships


Love Actually's Problematic Relationships

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Peter and Juliet

Peter and Juliet are that couple. The ones who improbably live in a mews flat in Zone One, yet still try to spin the myth that they're struggling creative types through a combination of lo-fi sartorial choices (baker boy hats, Etsy-ish wedding dresses…) If Instagram had existed in fictional 2001, these two would've been insufferable (and they'd definitely have deployed a wedding hashtag on the big day). These two are so wrapped up in their soft-focus White Company and Waitrose lifestyle that they've neglected to notice that Peter's best mate is a Nice Guy about to go nuclear – they're not problematic so much as really, actually tedious.

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Colin and the American girls

A storyline where the BT advert bloke lives out the British male delusion that all American women find them (and their gosh-darn-adorable accents) categorically irresistible: what could possibly go wrong? In the scenes where Colin, an adult man with all the urges – and social graces – of a 13-year-old boy, heads across the Atlantic, Love Actually becomes Coyote Ugly as directed by Richard Curtis: January Jones et al deserve so much better. Shout out to Colin's mate who, in calling his friend 'a lonely, ugly asshole,' is the only one to tell it like it is.

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Mark and Juliet

If the technology had been available at the dawn of the millennium, Mark would've been the guy who slides into the Instagram inboxes of women who've swiped past him on Tinder, asking them why they've rejected his digital advances. This being 2001, he's forced to make do with hand-made signs and a shaky video montage of Keira Knightley's perfect face in extreme close-up. Borderline psychopathic behaviour, you might think – and yet we're expected to believe that Juliet somehow finds this behaviour mildly endearing, despite admitting that Mark has never properly spoken to her. But then again, Juliet has terrible taste in pie (banoffee), snacks (Munchies), headgear (baker boy caps) and, most probably, men. Enough now.

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John and Judy

It's only upon your fifteenth consecutive viewing that you'll finally realise just how naked body doubles John and Just Judy fit into Love Actually's festive spider web: their film is being produced by Tony, Colin's disparaging friend. Bringing together Tim from The Office and Stacey from Gavin & Stacey (though Love Actually actually pre-dates the latter by about half a decade), this storyline feels like it could form the basis of a charming – if NSFW – Christmas advert. Plus, it says a lot about this film that the line 'All I want for Christmas … pregnant pause… is YOU' doesn't even register on Love Actually's exponential scale of festive cheese.

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Ant and Dec

It's a monumental injustice that Ant and Dec, arguably the most enduring platonic love story of the modern age, didn't get a full Love Actually of their own. As is, ITV's premier double act have to make do with a three-minute cameo and an inclusion in this list. Though their screen time may be negligible, 'Ant or Dec' prove that the combined power of their bromance is enough to diffuse disaster when Billy Mack drops some F-bombs in a live interview. And if that isn't love, actually, I don't want to know what is.

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Natalie and David

There's enough fat phobia in the films of Richard Curtis to inspire a whole graduate thesis, but let's not get into the weird body-shaming of Martine McCutcheon here, because the tentative romance between Natalie from Wandsworth (the dodgy end) and David the Prime Minister is Love Actually's beating heart. On paper, it's another workplace relationship with a blatantly unbalanced power dynamic – and one that compromises the special relationship between Britain and the US in the process. Eventually, though, this one plays out as charming rather than creepy (largely because this is Hugh Grant in bumbling Notting Hill mode, with added meme-able dancing, rather than full Bridget Jones mode). Shout out to papier maché octopus child, the ultimate third wheel and true hero of Love Actually.

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Jamie and Aurelia

The Jamie-Aurelia relationship is essentially the incarnation of a Pinterest quote telling us that love needs no language to flourish. So, what could be more romantic than a storyline where neither character actually understands what the other is saying, while one is quite literally the other's domestic drudge? It's only when – in a male-gaze inversion of Colin Firth's Mr Darcy pond-dipping – Aurelia jumps into a lake in her pants that Jamie starts to take any notice of his cleaner, who's essentially contracted to laugh at his terrible jokes and admire his M&S Blue Harbour knitwear. Admittedly, the proposal scene has its redeeming qualities, but the whole set-up is probably less progressive than Pride and Prejudice itself.

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Billy Mack and his manager

A weird element of 'no homo' cuts through the bromance between ageing pop star Billy Mack and his 'old, fat manager' (if anything in the film merits an 'Enough… enough now' from Andrew Lincoln's Mark, it's the endlessly boring gay jokes that keep cropping up in the script). But as the one storyline that prioritises platonic friendship over, say, obsessively stalking your best friend's wife from a distance, or mounting a harassment campaign against your colleague, Bill and his pal provide some light-hearted relief – all when providing multiple name-drops of the premier boy band of early Noughties Britain, Blue.

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Sarah and Karl

Where to start with Sarah and Karl, yet another of the film's many couples who we're supposed to view as viable, despite neither party having ever bothered to speak to the other – in this case, for two years, seven months, three days and I suppose, what, two hours? When enigmatic chief designer Karl and knitwear aficionado Sarah do eventually get together, things don't exactly go to plan: as it turns out, Karl doesn't just look like a Ken doll but has the emotional capacity of one, too, apparently fleeing when it emerges that Sarah has a brother who's mentally ill. That said, did she really have to pick up the phone a second time?

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Sam and Joanna

What could be more endearing than the 'total agony' of Sam's crush on Joanna, who 'everyone worships because she's heaven'? He's just an emotionally intense 10-year-old boy, standing in front of a girl, trying to find love through a mutual appreciation of Mariah Carey and a casual attitude to airport security. This being the Richard Curtis universe, he succeeds – and for once, we're willing to let the improbability of Sam's Heathrow escapade slide, just because his tiny happy face is the true meaning of Christmas.

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Sam and Daniel

'Let's get the shit kicked out of us by love!' Such is the rallying cry of Love Actually's loveliest relationship: the one that unfolds between Sam and his step-dad, Daniel (as played by Liam Neeson) after the former loses his mum and the latter loses his wife. With a little bit of help from Kate and Leo (courtesy of the 'I'm flying!' scene from Titanic), this is A grade Richard Curtis schmaltz – and while both parties eventually find love (with Joanna and actual Claudia Schiffer respectively) it's their charming relationship that comes out on top.

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Mia and Harry

How could you do such a thing to Emma Thompson? The Harry and Mia pairing is one of the most frustrating plotlines in this frustratingly plotted film: like Andrew Lincoln's Mark, sexy-secretary-trope-gone-rogue Mia behaves in a way that's borderline sociopathic (raise your hand if you've ever requested a party venue with 'dark corners for doing dark deeds?' Thought not…) yet still seems to charm the hapless Harry into buying her an intricately wrapped necklace that's ostensibly from Selfridges but looks straight out of the Argos catalogue. It can't be a coincidence that she turns up to the Christmas do with distinctly un-festive devil horns: Mia and Harry are the undisputed villains of the piece.

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