British actress who has won many awards for her versatile acting and an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for Sense and Sensibility (1996).
Born in London, the daughter of the actress Phyllida Law and the television director Eric Thompson, she studied English literature at Cambridge University, where she performed as a member of Footlights. After graduating Thompson worked on stage before achieving major success firstly playing a Glaswegian art student in the miniseries Tutti Frutti (1987), for which she won a BAFTA award for best actress, and then playing opposite Kenneth Branagh (whom she later married) in the drama series Fortunes of War (1988). Based on the novels of Olivia Manning (1908–80), this was the first of a number of literary adaptations in which she has appeared. For this performance Thompson won both a BAFTA best actress award and the Variety Club's newcomer of the year award.
Thompson then joined Kenneth Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company and featured in his film version of Shakespeare's Henry V (1989). During their marriage (1989–95) she starred in a further three films directed by Branagh – the thriller Dead Again (1991), the comedy Peter's Friends (1992), and another Shakespearean adaptation, Much Ado About Nothing (1993). In 1992 Thompson appeared in the Merchant-Ivory screen version of E. M. Forster's novel Howards End, winning a best actress Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Margaret Schlegel. Her performance as the housekeeper in The Remains of the Day (1994), another Merchant-Ivory film, based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (1954– ), gained Thompson an Oscar nomination for best actress. The same year she was also nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actress for her role as a defence lawyer for the ‘Guildford Four’ in In the Name of the Father. In 1995 she won further praise for Carrington, in which she played the Bloomsbury artist Dora Carrington, who fell in love with Lytton Strachey.
Thompson's screenplay of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (1996) brought her not only an Academy Award but also a Golden Globe; her starring role in the film as Elinor Dashwood earned her a BAFTA award for best actress. Thompson scored a further critical success in Primary Colors (1998), in which she portrayed the ambitious wife of a candidate for the US presidency, a character closely based on Hillary Clinton.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).