Lisa Schwarzbaum
December 24, 1993 AT 05:00 AM EST

Her intelligent eyes. That’s what they always write about whenthey write stories about Emma Thompson: her intelligent eyes andher smart forehead and her amused smile and her bright gaze. Ina business where any actress who isn’t blond has a shot at beingcalled ”the thinking man’s pinup,” brown-haired, hazel-eyedThompson, 34, is the leading candidate with the real goods for thetitle.

Certainly, since winning a Best Actress Oscar for Howards Endlast spring, she’s taken the title of Hollywood’s FavoriteEnglish Leading Lady — working with Hollywood’s Favorite English(or Irish, or Welsh) Leading Men. Playing Beatrice to Benedickopposite her husband, Kenneth Branagh, in his lusty, burnishedadaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, she waged afiery ”merry war” (per the author’s instructions) against herbeloved, blending wit and remarkably contemporary-soundingfeminist anger with open-hearted warmth and sexiness. As thehousekeeper Miss Kenton in The Remains of the Day, Thompsonshaded her character’s no-nonsense efficiency with subtleundertones of humor and brave, tender desire for AnthonyHopkins, as her repressed coworker, Mr. Stevens. Now she closes1993 with a smaller but nonetheless fiercely drawn role as asmart, passionate defense lawyer for Daniel Day-Lewis in In theName of the Father, directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot).

Thompson’s early career was as a comedian, and she has awell-developed High Wit Quotient that enables her to deflect theinevitable blather about how she and her equally hypertalentedhusband are some sort of golden theatrical couple. (They are, ofcourse, in that ”Ken and Em” look so damn handsome a deux, andthey have produced such a prodigious amount of fine theatricalwork together, beginning with public television’s Fortunes ofWar in 1986 and Branagh’s masterful Henry V in 1989.) ButThompson excels at pish-toshing her good looks. ”Luckily, I’mnot known as a beauty,” she says, ”even if I do photograph allsort of glammy. If you asked people, ‘Do you think she’sbeautiful? Do you think she’s sexy?’ I think 99.9 percent wouldsay, ‘Not particularly, but she’s a good actress, and she’sintelligent.”’ She understates her strengths — perhaps by design,perhaps with that particular strain of Cambridge-educatedBritish demurral that only the self-confidently talented canpull off.

Meanwhile, Thompson continues to work at writing a screenadaptation of Sense and Sensibility that early creator ofthinking men’s pinups, Jane Austen. Good. Because it is a truthuniversally acknowledged that a smart actress in possession ofgood fortune must be in want of her own dream script. — LS

Classy, clever, and ever so busy, she’s America’s favoriteBritish import


Classy, clever, and ever so busy, she’s America’s favoriteBritish import

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