If revenge, as the late fashion designer Gianni Versace believed, is best served after seven years, then other alpha couples in the throes of painful break-ups could have learnt a lot from the Thompson example.“[It] is – as Mike Nichols [the director] once said … You can’t hold on to anything like that,” Thompson, said as she finally commented on the Branagh/Bonham Carter affair in an interview this week. Despite appearing together in successful films such as 1991’s Dead Again and the 1993 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Thompson and Branagh drifted apart.
Yet despite whispers of Branagh’s “private and complicated” relationship with fellow Brit actor Helena Bonham Carter, and Thompson’s subsequent relationship with (her now husband) Greg Wise, no one was any the wiser.
But this week Thompson has finally lifted the lid on what happened at the end of that union with charm and self-deprecation – and how she used the pain and depression she suffered to carve out an even more successful career for herself.
Their circle would dominate British acting in the late Eighties and Nineties.
Two years after meeting, they married in a lavish £30,000 ceremony at Cliveden with Brian Blessed as best man and Judi Dench, Ben Elton and Richard Briers among the guests.
“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 said. But I refuse to be affected over issues like this by how the world at large appears to feel.” Thompson, who is the only person ever to have won Oscars for both writing and acting, is now married to Greg Wise, an actor and producer whom she met on the set of the 1995 version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
However, Thompson struck a more reconciled note about the fall-out from her relationship with Branagh in a new interview. The couple have one daughter, Gaia, 13, and a son, Tindyebwa Agaba, 26, a former child soldier from Rwanda whom they informally adopted when he was 16.
Today, Bonham Carter is in a long-term relationship with Tim Burton, the filmmaker, while Branagh married Lindsay Brunnock, an art director, in 2003.
Thompson managed to utilise the pain at the death of her marriage in one of her most acclaimed performances – that of Karen in Richard Curtis’s Love Actually, who suspects her husband of infidelity.
“She’s a wonderful woman, Helena.” Thompson and Branagh had met back in 1987 when they appeared in a mini-series Fortunes of War playing Guy and Harriet Pringle, a newlywed couple who arrive in Bucharest in 1939.
Branagh was a former comprehensive pupil from Reading; Thompson was part of a theatrical dynasty (her mother, Phyllida Law, was a classical actress; her father Eric Thompson wrote and narrated The Magic Roundabout) and at Cambridge acted in Footlights with Fry and Hugh Laurie.
It seems that the Ken and Em show was already in trouble – competing schedules, too much time away from each other – even before the affair with Bonham Carter, which is believed to have started on the Frankenstein set in 1994.