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Emma Thompson’s ‘Love Actually’ Storyline Was Inspired by Real-Life Heartbreak

The actress drew on past pain to deliver one of the most powerful scenes in the movie


For all its problematic relationships and Christmas card sentiment, there’s one storyline in Love Actually that never fails to leave us in tears; our emotions haven’t dimmed despite years of repeat viewing. We’re talking, of course, about Emma Thompson’s heartbreak via her character Karen, who realizes that her husband Harry (played by the late Alan Rickman) is having an affair with his secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch).

Related: See the Cast of ‘Love Actually’ Then and Now

In that particular scene, 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, Emma Thompson’s revealed that she drew upon a real-life heartbreak to bring the scene to life and channelled her memories of the breakdown of her eight-year marriage to her Harry Potter co-star, actor Kenneth Branagh, who reportedly had an affair with Helena Bonham Carter after meeting on the set of the 1994 film Frankenstein.

Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson at their wedding
Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson at their wedding, 1989Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

“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 in 2018. “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.”

Related: ‘Love Actually’ Fan Theories That’ll Make You Want to Rewatch the Movie ASAP

This post was originally written by Katie Rosseinsky for Grazia, and updated in 2023

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