Emma Thompson is one of those rare actresses whose mere presence lights up a screen. Even in steely roles, she has a comforting aura. We feel safe in her company. Part of that is owed to Thompson’s flawless hair, which tends to speak for her characters before they’ve even uttered a word.
Whether she’s sporting a prissy crop or a bohemian mop, Thompson boasts some of Hollywood’s most remarkable tresses. No matter their shape, they are mini-biographies unto themselves, disclosing her characters’ interior lives. It helps, of course, that Thompson remains as charming and articulate off the screen as she is on it.
In honor of Thompson’s latest movie, “
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” which is now streaming on Netflix and features one of the actress’ most distinguished ’dos, we’re ranking 19 of her cinematic hairstyles. An ode! "Last Chance Harvey" (2008)
Why haven't we cast Thompson in more traditional romantic dramedies, à la "Last Chance Harvey," in which she plays a single London statistician who falls for a jingle writer portrayed by Dustin Hoffman? Thompson plays insecure as effortlessly as she plays fearless, and the lack of glamour in this hokey but lovable swoon speaks to the former. When the hair comes down, so do this character's boundaries.
More "Love Actually" (2003)
Love or loathe this Yuletide fire-starter, Thompson is its summit. Her golden locks -- those of a spent housewife who escapes to her bedroom seeking the consolation of Joni Mitchell -- are homey even when her life is anything but. Appropriately, there's nothing decadent about this curtained design, which wouldn't be out of place on a '90s male heartthrob. (What's good, Jonathan Taylor Thomas?) Love, actually, is all around, even in Thompson's more restrained hair arrangements.
More "Stranger Than Fiction" (2006)
Every cigarette Thompson's aggrieved novelist puffs in "Stranger Than Fiction" is a lifeline for the most fanciful case of writer's block that has ever existed. She seems bound to yank her hair out at any minute. Thankfully, she doesn't; after all, this vastly watchable gem is a comedy wrapped in a tragedy's wardrobe.
More "Junior" (1994)
"Junior" provides two Emma Thompson rarities: a broad studio comedy and an imperfect ponytail that's let loose when she needs to gussy up. Playing an ungainly scientist, she elevates the male-pregnancy spectacle's watery script with note-perfect timing that resembles Lucille Ball. Her plait bobbing to and fro boosts the delight factor.
More Story continues "In the Name of the Father" (1993)
As an attorney submitting the winning evidence in court, Thompson dons a bun of sorts. It's her fiercest hair day in this movie, showcasing a formidable transition from quotidian ponytail to well-cropped power trim. Everything about that shift says she's there to prevail, and -- 24-year-old spoiler alert -- prevail she does.
More "Primary Colors" (1998)
Remember when Emma Thompson played Hillary Clinton, sort of? This under-appreciated Mike Nichols film, chronicling a magnetic Arkansas governor's presidential campaign, would thrive even if it weren't riffing on Bill Clinton's first White House bid, but the physical resemblance that Thompson both does
and doesn't bear to the then-future first lady works in its favor. She boasts the same steely smarts and unflappable confidence, with a take-charge hairdo to seal the deal. More "Saving Mr. Banks" (2013)
Thompson's short crops often signify power, or an attempt at power, because who needs statement hair when your very presence commands a room? As portrayed here, P.L. Travers wouldn't want any fuss over her primly permed locks. The scowl forever emblazoned on the "Mary Poppins" scribe's face says all we need to know about how little she'd want anyone hassling over her appearance. She's got it under control; what more could we need?
More "An Education" (2009)
As the flinty headmistress in "An Education," Thompson flaunts one of her signature I-mean-business looks, skillfully coiffed alongside the prim cardigans and monochromatic frocks that announce her judgmental gaze.
More "Nanny McPhee" (2005)
As decreed in the Hollywood Bible, every A-list actress must don at least one sturdy rug before she can retire. Enter "Nanny McPhee," in which flyaways, a unibrow and a snaggletooth forge a brave sartorial cocktail. (But never retire, Emma Thompson.)
More "Dead Again" (1991)
Thompson and then-hubby Kenneth Branagh had dual roles in the Hitchcockian "Dead Again," one of the few thrillers to her name. In its present-day plotline, Thompson plays an amnesiac obsessed with a 1949 murder. Her crimped mane wobbles so splendidly that she seems bound to get whiplash at every turn. Just wait till she grabs a gun!
More "The Remains of the Day" (1993)
Schoolgirl innocence is not a hallmark of Emma Thompson's oeuvre. In fact, most of her characters seem like they've seen it all. The ribbons and berets on Miss Kenton's head would beg to differ if not for the "Remains of the Day" housekeeper's acquired upper-crust inflections, easy confidence and soft come-ons. It's one of Thompson's most sensual roles, precisely because she appears so buttoned at first glance.
More "Much Ado About Nothing" (1993)
One of the best big-screen Shakespeare adaptations, this jovial rendition of "Much Ado About Nothing" encapsulates Thompson's entire career. As Beatrice, she transitions from prickly free spirit to unlikely romantic. The constant? Her flowing tresses, which gleam like a halo in the sun.
More "Sense and Sensibility" (1995)
The hairstyles in Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility" adaptation could merit their own ranking. Thompson, who won an Oscar for writing the screenplay, has a touch of everything here: frilly bangs, soft tendrils and a twisted bun perched on the back of her head. There's even a
about how to achieve the Jane Austen heroine's look.
More "Brideshead Revisited" (2008)
Judi Dench must have quaked in her clogs upon seeing her hairstylings appropriated for this rendition of Evelyn Waugh's World War II novel. For someone with such a warm screen presence, nothing about Thompson's stern "Brideshead Revisited" waves seem inviting. All for a good cause: She plays an aristocrat who's every bit as judgy as her blanched countenance implies.
More "Howards End" (1992)
"Even I know a good thing when I see it," Thompson's Margaret Schlegel says in this Merchant Ivory production. The movie's good things include her frizzles, joyful with or without a flamboyant hat perched atop them. Has anyone thought of Thompson for a live-action "Magic School Bus"?
More "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" (2017)
In the funniest work of her career, a culinarily challenged Thompson scurries around in bohemian muumuus, sloshing on about Italian birds and train schedules. Every time she appears in "The Meyerowitz Stories" -- and it isn't hardly enough -- she is all the mise en scène this movie needs. No one can better land a line like, "He's babyfaced but sinewy, like an old lover of mine, Willem Dafoe."
More "Men in Black III" (2012)
Good movie hair complements its proprietor's affectations, but great movie hair leaves us blissfully stunned when a character's tenor contradicts her appearance. In this extraterrestrial threequel, woman in black Agent O breaks the solemnity of a funeral by quoting a
lengthy alien squeal
that sounds like a shrill bird and a stoned hippopotamus mating. In a later scene, when she suddenly slaps Will Smith, her head turns, emphasizing the taut business-chic tresses undermined by Thompson's effortless ability to seem at once silly and stiff.
More "Harry Potter" (2004-2011)
For such a batty side character, Sybill Trelawney played a gigantic role in Harry Potter's fate. It's only fitting that her hair was proportionally gigantic. The series
is set in the '90s, after all, so of course the kookiest divination professor on the block was still basking in perm-happy days of the preceding decade. Her aura is pulsing. More "Angels in America" (2003)
Greetings, prophet! The greatest hair has arrived. Playing three roles in this exceptional HBO miniseries, Thompson sports multiple 'dos, one of which is obstructed by a ratty beanie. ("In the future, we will all be insane" is a line best delivered free of head fur.) The superior hair is that of Thompson's angel, who blasts through ceilings with the force of a thousand loud trumpet calls, her golden harvest always breezing in the not-so-heavenly winds.
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