Why Emma Thompson's Love Actually Breakdown Was So Real

Emma Thompson in Love Actually

Richard Curtis' 2003 film Love Actually is a modern Christmas classic and a widely loved, feel-good film. Most of its various narratives have happy and upbeat conclusions, affirming the power of love and that there's someone for everyone. But, it's easy to forget that the story of Alan Rickman's Harry and Emma Thompson's Karen does not have a happy ending. This story delivered an emotional gut punch when Karen realizes on Christmas that the necklace she found in her husband's jacket was not meant for her. She retreats to her bedroom and breaks down into tears. The scene comes off as incredibly raw and emotional, and that's because it was, as Emma Thompson explained:

That scene where my character is standing by the bed crying is so well known because it's something everyone's been through. I had my heart very badly broken by Ken. So I knew 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.

Like many great actors, Emma Thompson was drawing from personal experience to inform her performance. In this case, as she told Yahoo Movies UK, she knew what it was like to have her heart broken by an unfaithful spouse. Emma Thompson was once married to actor/director Kenneth Branagh, who cheated on her with Helena Bonham Carter. So in this scene, she knew exactly how her character felt and simply had to think of her own experience to conjure the emotion necessary for the scene. It is, of course, unfortunate that Emma Thompson went through such heartbreak in her own life, but that is just one of the many ways that art imitates life, which is why this is the most real-feeling moment in a largely sugar-sweet film. It is something people can relate to, and therefore they feel Karen's pain. You can watch the scene from Love Actually below to see the Oscar-winning actress deliver some impressive method acting.

What is so powerful about this scene is that Karen leaves her family by the tree and steals away for a brief moment to be vulnerable and let her emotions out, letting the tears flow that couldn't be held back a moment longer. Then after her breakdown, she wipes her eyes, collects herself and goes back to her family, bearing the burden of her unhappiness alone so that her family could remain intact. The use of the Joni Mitchell song Both Sides, Now, which is both story and soundtrack, also adds to the emotional weight of the scene.

The Love Actually story got something of a sequel in the charity short film Red Nose Day Actually. However, due to the passing of the marvelous Alan Rickman, the Karen and Harry story was not continued, and sadly, it sounds like pure happiness was not in the cards for those two characters. At least Karen still had her family, unlike Andrew Lincoln's character Mark, who was left holding a bunch of signs. There are plenty of movies hitting the theater this year, and with any luck, many of them will also have the kind of brilliant performances like the one Emma Thompson gave in Love Actually. You can check them out in our release schedule.

Nick Evans

Nick grew up in Maryland has degrees in Film Studies and Communications. His life goal is to walk the earth, meet people and get into adventures. He’s also still looking for The Adventures of Pete and Pete season 3 on DVD if anyone has a lead.