Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh: What has she said about his affair with Helena Bonham Carter?

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In one of her most iconic roles, Emma Thompson played the role of a woman navigating the heartbreak of finding out her husband is having an affair.

The plot of Love Actually is similar to Thompson’s real-life experience. She found herself facing a similar situation with her ex-husband Kenneth Branagh.

The couple, who were married for six years, first met in 1987 while filming the BBC series Fortunes of War.

“He was incandescent with ambition and performance energy,” Thompson recalled to The New Yorker in November 2022 of the moment she first fell for Branagh on the set of the series.

Thomspon claimed their personalities made for a volatile relationship and described the two-year courtship as being similar to “two mating lobsters”.

“Like two mating lobsters, we clashed claws,” she recalled of the relationship.

After two years of dating, Thompson and Branagh married on 20 August 1989. From there, the pair would go on to appear in several movies together, including the 1991 film Dead Again, Henry V, and Much Ado About Nothing.

The relationship didn’t last and the couple ultimately announced their separation in 1995. It was later revealed that Branagh was having an affair with Helena Bonham Carter.

When did the couple separate and what has Thompson said about the affair?

In 1995, Thompson and Branagh released a joint statement announcing their divorce and cited their conflicting work schedules as the reason for the breakdown of their marriage.

“Our work has inevitably led to our spending long periods of time away from each other, and as a result, we have drifted apart,” the statement said, according to The New York Times.

Branagh and Thompson were married from 1989 to 1995 (Getty Images)
Branagh and Thompson were married from 1989 to 1995 (Getty Images)

Thompson would go on to tell The New Yorker that the real reason for the divorce was her discovery that Branagh had started a relationship with Bonham Carter, who was starring in his film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

“I was utterly, utterly blind to the fact that he had relationships with other women on set,” she told the outlet. “What I learned was how easy it is to be blinded by your own desire to deceive yourself.”

Of the time period, Thompson recalled being “half alive”.

“Any sense of being a lovable or worthy person had gone completely,” she said.

Thompson said the person who ended up helping her through the heartbreak was actor Greg Wise, who she met on the set of Sense & Sensibility, and “picked up the pieces and put them back together”.

Thompson and Wise would go on to form a relationship of their own, marrying in 2003 after eight years together.

“I’ve learned more from my second marriage just by being married,” Thompson told The New Yorker.

As for Branagh’s relationship with Bonham Carter, the couple dated for five years before separating in 1999.

Although Thompson has spoken openly about her hurt over the affair, she previously revealed that the experience helped her in her Love Actually role.

“That scene where my character is standing by the bed crying is so well known because it’s something everyone’s been through,” Thompson said during a fundraiser for the Tricycle Theatre in February 2018. “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.”

Speaking to The Telegraph that same month, Thompson described her own heartbreak as “practice” for the role.

“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.

Has Thompson forgiven Branagh and Bonham Carter?

In November 2013, Thompson said that she had made “peace” with her Harry Potter co-star while speaking to The Telegraph after she was asked about similarities between herself and Bonham Carter.

“Oh we are. Being slightly mad and a bit fashion-challenged. Perhaps that’s why Ken loved us both… Helena and I made our peace years and years ago,” she said.

During an interview with the Sunday Times in 2013, Thompson also described the affair between Bonham Carter and her ex-husband as “blood under the bridge”.

“You can’t hold on to anything like that. It’s pointless. I haven’t got the energy for it. Helena and I made our peace years and years ago,” she said.

The two women would go on to star alongside one another in the Harry Potter films, with Bonham Carter playing Bellatrix Lestrange in the final four films and Thompson playing Professor Sybil Trelawney in three of the eight movies.

Bonham Carter also reflected on the affair during an October 2020 interview with The Guardian, where she used Thompson’s phrase “blood under the bridge” to describe her past relationship with Branagh.

“You know, Ken avoided directing me once we were together because it can be complicated and I think he didn’t want - anyway, that’s all blood under the bridge,” she said.

Branagh married art director Lindsay Brunnock in 2003, while Bonham Carter would go on to a decade-long relationship with Tim Burton. Bonham Carter and Burton would later separate in 2014.

Although the pair were never married, the actress described the split as a “divorce.

“I went through a very painful divorce,” she told podcast host Julia Samuel. “It was a long-lasting thing. That’s the other thing, it’s not that finite. It never ends. Even if you divorce somebody, it’s a kind of marriage if you have children with them. The relationship has to change.”