Emily Watson burst onto the scene with an Academy Award for Best Actress in her first major film role in Breaking The Waves. From there on, she has continued to shine in blockbuster leading roles alongside acting greats Daniel Day-Lewis, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith and Geoffrey Rush. This year, Watson starred in the moving war romance TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, which comes to digital download on 8th May and Blu-ray and DVD from 25th May. Here we take a look at her most impressive film roles…
TESTAMENT OF YOUTH (2015)
The indomitable Vera Brittain became the first person to document war from a woman’s point of view and, in so doing, changed the way a generation regarded itself and its actions. Her defining testimony has been transformed into a searing story of love, war and remembrance in TESTAMENT OF YOUTH. Alicia Vikander stars as Vera Brittain – irrepressible, intelligent and free-minded – who overcomes the prejudices of her family and hometown to win a scholarship to Oxford. With everything to live for, she falls in love with her brother’s close friend Roland Leighton (Kit Harington) as they go to University to pursue their literary dreams. But the First World War is looming and as the boys leave for the front Vera realises she cannot sit idly by as her peers fight for their country, so volunteers as a nurse. She works tirelessly, experiencing all the griefs of war, as one by one her fiancé, her brother and their closest friends are all killed and the pillars of her world shattered. However, an indefatigable spirit, Vera endures and returns to Oxford, irrevocably changed, yet determined to find a new purpose which spurs her towards a redemptive act of remembrance. Emily Watson supports brilliantly as Vera’s mother, who shares the same grief as her family as the world around her is torn apart by war. A sweeping, epic and yet inherently personal account of the true cost of war by a star-studded British cast.
Fireflies in the Garden (2008)
To an outsider, the Taylors are the very picture of the successful American family: Charles (Willem Dafoe) is a tenured professor on track to become university president, son Michael (Ryan Reynolds) is a prolific and well-known romance novelist, daughter Ryne (Shannon Lucio) is poised to enter a prestigious law school, and on the day we are introduced to them, matriarch Lisa (Julia Roberts) will graduate from college-decades after leaving to raise her children. But when Lisa is killed in a car-crash, the far more nuanced reality of this Midwestern family’s history and relationships come to light. Flitting between Michael’s childhood, a period where he was cruelly picked on by his neglectful father, and the present, when he is on the verge of publishing a biographical novel which will reveal all about his father’s horrible treatment of his wife, Michael and Jane (Lisa’s much younger sister). Whilst Hayden Panettiere plays young-Jane, the guardian older-sister figure to Michael, Emily Watson delivers an emphatic turn as older-Jane, who struggles to keep peace between Michael and Charles in the same way her late sister had before. Inspired by Robert Frost’s moving poem of the same name.
War Horse (2011)
Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s prizewinning novel of the same name and directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, War Horse is the story of a remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When Joey is sold by Albert’s father behind his back, Albert is heartbroken and must wait until he is old enough to enlist before he sets off to find Joey in the midst of the First World War. Set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War, War Horse follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets-British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter-before the story reaches its emotional climax in the heart of No Man’s Land. The First World War is experienced through the journey of this horse-an odyssey of joy and sorrow, passionate friendship and high adventure. Emily Watson plays Albert’s kind-hearted mother, who hated the idea of separating Joey and Albert but also understood the family’s need for money in hard times. Another heart-warming motherly performance.
Breaking the Waves (1996)
Emily Watson gave a critically acclaimed debut film performance as Bess McNeil in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, for which she was earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Watson was virtually unknown until director Lars von Trier chose her to star in his controversial Breaking the Waves after Helena Bonham Carter dropped out due to the nudity involved in the role. Set in the Scottish Highlands in the early 1970s, it is about an unusual young woman, Bess McNeill, and of the love she has for Jan, her husband, who asks her to have sex with other men when he becomes immobilized from a work accident. Bess’ emotional trauma over Jan’s injury turns into obsession as she prays to God for his recovery. Jan requests Bess to have sex with other men as he believes this will allow her to return to a normal life. Bess, on the other hand, sees it as an expression of her devotion to Jan that even God won’t be able to ignore. Bess’s resultant downward spiral leads to a finale of both tragedy and spirituality. Breaking the Waves is widely regarded as one of the most distinctive European movies of the 1990s, marking von Trier’s movement toward his influential Dogma 95 School of filmmaking, which emphasises realistic situations of contemporary life, filmed without background music and with a hand-held, restlessly moving camera.
Hilary and Jackie (1998)
Watson also received an Academy Award nomination for her role as Jacqueline du Pré in the 1998 film Hilary and Jackie, the touching and incredible true story of Jacqueline and Hilary du Pré, the gifted musical sisters who grew up in England in the 1950’s. Written and produced as a tribute to Jackie, and based on the memoir A Genius in the Family by Piers and Hilary du Pré, the story traces her rapid rise to international fame and the devastating consequences it had on her and those she loved. Jackie and her husband, the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, were treated as musical royalty as they travelled and performed around the world. However, the constant touring became a tremendous strain on Jackie who longed for the simpler life that her sister had built with husband Christopher Finzi, the son of composer Gerald Finzi. When Jackie arrives at her sister’s home for an unannounced visit, lonely and desperate, Hilary consents to Jackie having an affair with her (Hilary’s) husband.
Appropriate Adult (2011)
Appropriate Adult is a 2011 British television film, first shown on ITV in two 90-minute parts, based on the true story of Gloucester serial killer Fred West (no relation to the actor playing him, Dominic West) and his wife Rosemary West. Appropriate Adult focuses on the events between the Wests’ arrests in 1994 and Fred’s suicide in Birmingham’s Winson Green Prison on New Year’s Day 1995, from the perspective of Janet Leach (Emily Watson), Fred West’s appropriate adult during his questioning. The senior investigator of Fred West’s case wanted to ensure that there could be no suggestion that West did not understand any part of the process, so arrangements were made so that he had an appropriate adult present at all times. Emily Watson won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress for her role as the compromised Janet Leach, who draws vital information from West but must remain silent due to the confidentiality demanded of an appropriate adult.
The Boxer (1997)
The Boxer sees Daniel Day-Lewis play Danny Flynn, the 32-year-old boxer and former Provisional IRA volunteer, who returns to Belfast and tries to “go straight” following his release from prison. To get back into the boxing ring, Danny works hard to get the community-centre gym back in operation and starts training, encountering opposition from militant IRA members along the way. Watson stars as former-flame Maggie (Emily Watson), who has an unhappy marriage and now raises her son alone while her husband is in prison. Danny and Maggie grow closer, but Danny continues to be confronted with former IRA compatriots. The growing animosity leads to a bomb being set off, destroying Danny’s gym. Day-Lewis and Watson’s great chemistry in The Boxer sets a heart-warming love story adjacent to the militant friction that developed between splinter groups within the IRA in Belfast.
Gosford Park (2001)
A Julian Fellowes classic period drama- Gosford Park boasts an incredible British ensemble cast including Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Eileen Atkins, Alan Bates, Kristin Scott Thomas, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Charles Dance, Tom Hollander and Laurence Fox. The British mystery film explores the lives of upstairs guests and downstairs servants at a party in 1932 in a country house in England as they investigate a murder involving one of them. Emily Watson plays Elsie, the head house maid, who jumps to the defence of Sir William, breaking the class barrier and eventually revealing her affair with Sir William to everyone at the table. Comic murder mystery at its best.
The Book Thief (2013)
Based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Markus Zusak and adapted by Michael Petroni, The Book Thief is about Liesel, a young girl living with her adoptive German family during the Nazi era. Taught to read by her kind-hearted foster father Hans (Geoffrey Rush), the girl begins “borrowing” books and sharing them with the Jewish refugee being sheltered by her foster parents in their home. Emily Watson plays Rosa, Liesel’s foster mother and wife of Hans in this heart-warming yet chilling tale.
Oranges and Sunshine (2011)
Set in 1980s Nottingham, Oranges and Sunshine is the true story of social worker Margaret Humphreys, who unveiled the scandalous British government child migration schemes in which thousands of children were told their parents had died and were deported to Australia. As Margaret reunited families she drew worldwide attention to the cause. Miraculously, Margaret reunited hundreds the children involved – now adults living mostly in Australia – with their parents in Britain. These children were promised Oranges and Sunshine but they got hard labour and life in institutions.
Testament of Youth arrives on Blu-ray and DVD from 25th May 2015 and on digital platforms from 8th May 2015, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment