Rich Cline with the rosebowl, Emma Thompson with the Charles Dickens goblet, Critics' Circle President Suzi Feay

The multiple Oscar- and Bafta-winning writer and actress attends a lunch in her honour with Critics’ Circle members from all six sections.

On Thursday, 3 November at a luncheon in the National Liberal Club, the writer-actress Dame Emma Thompson received the highest accolade of the Critics’ Circle, the 2021 Rosebowl award for Services to the Arts.

After a citation from Film Section Chair Rich Cline, the Cambridge graduate said she had written an essay for the 80 or so assembled critics. She reflected on her 40-year career and mused how strange to have been allowed to get old (though she hardly looks her bus-pass age) in the light of the tragic early death of her actor father, Eric Thompson, narrator and translator of The Magic Roundabout.

The first female member of the Footlights recalled her early ambition to be a comedian in the mould of Lily Tomlin in what were the last days of the revue genre. Younger critics were invited to look puzzled. She claimed she got into acting “by mistake” when the late Robbie Coltrane recommended her for the drama series Tutti Frutti, because “she can do Scots”. She spent much of her youth in the Highlands.

She recognised the value of professional criticism, although in her own life, she said, she no longer read reviews as there was for her now “less time to make changes”. She said critics had opportunity to give encouragement and support with honesty, comparing them to conservationists given charge of “little baby turtles” struggling up the beach gasping for air.

Finally she dwelt on her most recent film Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, which she called “a coming of old age movie”. She explained how it had grown out of a comedy sketch she had performed at the age of 26, acting the part of a pensioner curious about the sex she’d missed. “So the career comes full circle here before this Circle,” she concluded, while giving heartfelt thanks for the honour bestowed and the gift received to applause.

The Critics’ Circle Rosebowl has been awarded annually since 1988 to a single artist for their distinguished services to the arts. The recipient is voted for by the 500-plus members of the Circle in six sections – Theatre (founded 1913), Music (added 1918), Film (1926), Dance (1951), Visual Art and Architecture (2007), and Books (2013). The award is made at an informal lunch in the presence of the Circle’s prized relic, a crystal goblet once owned by Charles Dickens, which the president raises at the start of the meal to propose a toast to art.

Photos by Piers Allardyce

Pre-lunch reception in the library
Critics’ Circle President Suzi Feay proposes a toast to art with the Charles Dickens goblet