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Emily Blunt

The English rose who has grown up to be a Hollywood action star

Nicholas Barber | September/October 2015

2004 MY SUMMER OF LOVE TAMSIN
Emily Olivia Leah Blunt was 21 when she made her big-screen debut in Pawel Pawlikowski’s sultry coming-of-age drama, and her performance as the manipulative Tamsin was so flawless that it was tempting to wonder whether she could play anyone else. Surely she was that boarding-school seductress who treated all those around her as insects that had fluttered onto her hand? Surely no one could fake that withering sense of entitlement? A decade later, the adorable warmth of Blunt’s subsequent characters still comes as a relief.

2006 THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA EMILY CHARLTON
If Meryl Streep plays the devil in David Frankel’s fashion-mag comedy, and Anne Hathaway is the doe-eyed angel, Blunt and Stanley Tucci (who has since married Blunt’s sister Felicity) play its two human beings. Blunt, as the editorial assistant who is Hathaway’s immediate superior, could easily have been a cartoon villain, but even when she is spitting out acid put-downs, there’s a panicky, frazzled edge to her voice. The difference between her and the film’s supposed heroine is that, to Emily, the job actually matters.

2007 CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR JANE LIDDLE
There comes a time when you have to let the studios know you’re not just a posh English girl, but a sex symbol. There are worse places to do it than in a Mike Nichols drama alongside Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. The moment Blunt sashayed down Hanks’s stairs, wearing heels, white underwear and a highly dispensable shirt, was the moment her name appeared on every casting director’s wishlist. And she did it with languid wit and an accurate American drawl.

2009 THE YOUNG VICTORIA
Playing her second queen, following Catherine Howard on television, Blunt saves “The Young Victoria” from terminal period chocolate-boxiness by emphasising Victoria’s bubbly, toothy-grinned youth. In one scene, she haughtily dismisses Sir Robert Peel, and then, once he’s left the room, has a dimply giggle at her own gall. Subsequently, in “The Five-Year Engagement”, Blunt would find herself going to a Hallowe’en party dressed as Princess Di. In “The Young Victoria”, her sheepish head tilts are eerily Diana-like, too.

2011 THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU ELISE SELLAS
If a congressman (Matt Damon) follows God’s plan for him, he will go on to be a globally beneficent president, but if he rejects God’s plan, and sticks with a woman he has barely met, then his ambitions will go up in smoke. The former option may be the sane one, but Blunt soon convinces us that the latter makes more sense. She has chemistry with all her leading men; it’s something to do with the way she laughs at them and with them at the same time. Who wants to be president, anyway?

2014 EDGE OF TOMORROW SGT RITA VRATASKI
In “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Looper”, Blunt demonstrates a skill that is essential to anyone starring in a time-travel thriller: the ability to deliver cockamamie sci-fi exposition with straight-faced authority. The key is her impatient, scolding tone. It’s as if she is saying: “Well, of course the business about psychically linked alien squids sounds silly, but I’d hardly bring it up if it wasn’t true, would I?” She is no more fazed by techno-babble than she is by Tom Cruise.

2015 LIP SYNC BATTLE HERSELF
Blunt has to be cinema’s most criminally under-used goofball. If you’re in any doubt about her comedy chops, see her exquisitely timed clowning in “The Devil Wears Prada” or “Into the Woods”. Better still, see her episode of Spike TV’s celebs-mime-to-pop-songs series, “Lip Sync Battle”, a programme dreamt up by her husband, John Krasinski. In her dressing room, she runs through her vocal exercises (“Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumber-batch.”) and delivers her deadpan statement of intent: “I live to give. This is art.” The subtext is clear: “Just give me a lead role in a screwball comedy.”

2015 SICARIO KATE MACER
Not since Jodie Foster in “The Silence of the Lambs”, 24 years ago, has anybody done tough-yet-vulnerable as well as Blunt. In Denis Villeneuve’s war-on-drugs thriller “Sicario”, she has the standard action heroine’s willingness to blast you in the chest with a shotgun, but also a face that radiates tightly drawn doubt. You never worry about Benicio del Toro or Josh Brolin in “Sicario”, but Blunt’s FBI agent keeps you wondering whether she will get out alive. Which is what thrillers are for.

Sicario opens in America Sept 18th, Britain Oct 9th

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