Kristin Scott Thomas has a reputation for being an ice queen of the movie industry. As an actress she has immortalised those particular roles which require a certain aloofness and hauteur. Her breakthrough came in 1994 in Four Weddings and a Funeral when she played the acerbic Fiona, who is madly in love with the hapless Charles (Hugh Grant) but too proud to let him know how she feels. She went on to star opposite Robert Redford as the powerful, successful but-broken Annie MacLean in The Horse Whisperer, and then as a frosty, married congresswoman who falls for a tough police detective (Harrison Ford) in Random Hearts. But it was as the brilliant, complicated, Katharine in The English Patient in 1996 – where her steamy affair with Ralph Fiennes won her multiple award nominations, including an Oscar – that she really put her mark on Hollywood.
Now 59, Kristin has never played the Hollywood game. She cannot bear Los Angeles (“Who would want to actually live there?”) and has spent much of her life in France. She is not a fan of social media (“I do have an official Twitter account but it is for work purposes,” she says. “I think we should be aware that social media can be as dangerous as it is useful.”) And she has never really cared what people think of her.
Hugh Grant famously remarked she had to be “warmed up” every morning on set, and in interviews she is infamous for refusing to suffer foolish or intrusive questions, and happier to sit in chilly silence. She has been known to launch withering attacks on “vulgar” girls with fake tans and short skirts. She is a woman who knows her own mind. I have been warned.
In her latest movie role in Military Wives, true to form, Kristin plays → a stiff, posh, emotionally frozen colonel’s wife in a film based on the true-life story of the partners of British soldiers who formed a choir to help them deal with the pain of separation from their loved ones. Their success – appearing on television and having a chart-topping album – inspired similar choirs on bases all over the world, including 12 Military Wives Choirs in Australia from Sydney to Perth and Wagga Wagga.
Military Wives is a feel-good, tearjerker of a movie from the makers of The Full Monty and, as usual, Kristin’s performance is flawless and cleverly nuanced. As Kate, whose teenage son died in conflict, she takes it upon herself to help the other military wives forget about their worries when their men are deployed to Afghanistan, and she does so by leading them in a choir. Except no one really likes her, including the wine-chugging, popular staff sergeant’s wife, played by Sharon Horgan, who wants to sing The Beatles rather than Beethoven, and pop songs instead of hymns. It is as much the story of their unexpected friendship, and the journey of these unsung heroines of combat, which makes the film such a must-see, heart-warming movie. But as ever, it is the story of Kristin playing a singular woman who is not part of the crowd.
We meet in the suite of an upmarket London hotel. Kristin is wearing a long, heavy, black-and-white tweed coat that is fully buttoned-up over elegant black dress trousers, black leather high heels and a crisp, classic white shirt. Her highlighted-chestnut hair, cut in the same voguish bob she has worn it in for the past four decades, is salon perfect.
She is pencil-slim but it’s her face that stops you in your tracks – the transparent skin, those high, aristocratic cheekbones, the hooded grey-green eyes under arched eyebrows and the wide, symmetrical mouth which is, right now, shaped into a surprisingly welcoming smile. Many, many words have been used to describe Kristin’s enduring beauty. This year she will be 60, but still the sensual-woman parts keep coming – most recently as actress Phoebe Waller Bridge’s ultimate girl-crush in the black comedy, Fleabag. Fashionistas regularly vote her the most stylish woman in the world.
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