Her troubled private life has been as well-documented as her professional successes. And it seems that for every accolade, Emma Thompson has suffered a major personal trauma including divorce and a tragic miscarriage.
But with the birth of her daughter, and her wedding to fellow actor Greg Wise in July, she has at last found true happiness.
Appearing in the new Richard Curtis film Love Actually, Emma may be a double Oscar-winning actress, but it wasn't until she became a mother to Gaia, now three, that she discovered her perfect role.
"It was very difficult for me to have a child," says Emma, 44. "That's why I had one so late, because I had a miscarriage and things. Gaia was IVF and it's the best thing I've ever done.
"For me, having a child was an everyday miracle that transformed the landscape as completely as death transforms it, and it was just as profound an experience, which was the only thing I had to compare it with.
"It's extraordinary. It's like a meteor hitting your world. Nothing's ever the same again and there's this bloody great crater of motherhood out of which you are never going to climb and it's fabulous. It's the best thing."
Thompson exudes exhilaration and enthusiasm as she talks animatedly about how Gaia and Greg have transformed her life. She and Greg were married on July 29 in a quiet ceremony in Scotland after he had gone down on his knees and proposed on the Academia Bridge in Venice on Valentine's Day.
"It was partly for Gaia because, oddly enough, I think children appreciate it when you're married," she says. "They like being there, too. She had a great time.
"Greg is the most decent person I think I've ever known. He is kind to the root of his being and I've watched him over the years being kind to people and I think I admire that most of all. I don't think I could live with someone who wasn't kind because it is a necessary way to behave at all times, if possible.
"So, if you're going to have a child, then have a child with somebody whose moral grid you share. The time at which you both want to go to bed is also important. We both like going bed at about half-past eight - with a book," she adds, laughing.
"The thing I've learned most is how to be patient because it's fantastically irritating living with children. I'm sorry, but you cannot romanticise it. It's very repetitive and terribly difficult at times, as well as being almost a religious experience on other occasions.
"My child teaches me everything about being human. People say that children can be cunning or naughty, but I don't really think they can. I think that children are remarkable, incredibly balanced, unbelievably just and extraordinarily kind. And if you can preserve that, then they are liable to grow into people that have some sort of chance of being fully human. You just have to try not to interfere too much and allow their humanising influence on you to take its course."
Thompson can be funny, serious and thoughtful almost all at the same time, and she is always stimulating and invigorating. Wearing beige tweed trousers with a brown jacket, she looks 10 years younger than her age, although she jokes that she's been up since 6.30am making herself up.
"My mum saw me going off this morning," says Emma, "and she looked at me and said, 'Good grief, how long did it take you to get looking like that?'"
Fearlessly outspoken and refreshingly down-to-earth, Emma studied English Literature at Cambridge where she dated actor Hugh Laurie. In August 1989, she married Kenneth Branagh and they became known as acting's golden couple, until they divorced in 1995 when he left her for Helena Bonham Carter.
The daughter of the late stage director Eric Thompson and actress Phyllida Law, Emma was involved in theatrical productions while at university and, on leaving, worked with Laurie and Stephen Fry on the television show Alfresco.
She co-starred opposite Robert Lindsay in the West End musical Me And My Girl and then worked with Branagh in the television mini-series Fortunes Of War, on stage in Look Back In Anger and in the film Henry V.
She became an international star thanks to James Ivory's Howards End, for which she won the Best Actress Oscar in 1992. The following year she received two more nominations, for The Remains Of The Day and In The Name Of The Father. Then, in 1995, she won another Oscar for her script for Sense And Sensibility and another acting nomination.
Thompson enlarged her following in America by spoofing her image on the comedy show Ellen, playing a lesbian British actress, and earned Emmy nominations for co-writing and acting in the television production of Wit, playing a college professor stricken with cancer.
She is now back at work having taken nearly four years off and this week appears in Love Actually alongside Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Bill Nighy and Colin Firth. Emma plays the sister of Grant's Prime Minister. The film's narrative interweaves and concludes in London on Christmas Eve, although the festive season is something Thompson can't abide.
"Christmas is such a commercialised, horrendous, bastardised festival in this country," she says, despairingly. "Once October arrives, you go to Selfridges and all the Christmas decorations will be up. By the time it gets to Christmas, everybody will be so fed up.
"But I think it depends on what you experience yourself and, as a child, Christmas for me was a very loving time. I personally think that a festival which should be about love has been stolen from us, partly because of the passing of the Christian notion of it and the fact that now it's all just about what we can buy and sell."
In a move which will no doubt delight her daughter when she's a bit older, Emma has signed up for Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban - due out next year - playing Professor Sybill Trelawney, the Professor Of Divination.
"I get to wear huge googly glasses," says Emma gleefully. "I also have a nervous breakdown and get to stand at the top of the stairs waving an empty bottle of sherry. Gaia is not quite into Harry Potter yet, but of course I am doing it for her so that later she will be impressed. I don't know how old she will be, but if she only watches Howards End she will say, 'Mum, it's so boring!'"
Emma has also succeeded in raising the finance for a children's film she has written called Nanny McPhee, a kind of modern-day Mary Poppins, which is due to go into production next March.
"It's about seven children who have a widowed father and they're all terribly, fantastically naughty," she says. "Then, a nanny arrives who is very strange to look at but, as she helps them organise themselves, she gets prettier. It's about learning how to be human, really."
But not all of Emma's projects are so full of sweetness and light. A lot of what she does has a heavy political slant and she is still trying to come to terms with the reaction accorded Imagining Argentina, a film close to her heart about the disappearance of thousands of people under Argentina's military dictatorship in the '70s.
She starred alongside Antonio Banderas and the movie drew jeers at this year's Venice Film Festival. Its mixture of graphic brutality and dreamy magic led to it being slaughtered by the critics and made it one of the worst-received films in the event's history.
"I was astonished at the reaction to it," Thompson admits. "The critics all took the same line - that you can't tell a story in this way. Then we had the public who got up and clapped for six minutes, which doesn't happen very often in Venice. So I thought OK, we've got something here that has hit a nerve with the press."
Emma has continued to promote Imagining Argentina, despite the reaction it got at Venice. "I've been showing it to other people, to Amnesty International, other human rights groups and to Argentinians. They said they didn't understand what had happened in Venice that night.
"I've been trying to work it out and I think there was a nervousness to it because it is a very difficult story to tell, but if we don't tell these stories, they happen again. I completely support the film and will carry on supporting it because I absolutely believe in it."
Emma is also writing a screenplay about the 1973 murder of Chilean political activist and songwriter Victor Jara following the overthrow of the Allende government. Her own activism and concern has also led to a role alongside Meryl Streep and Al Pacino in the American television play Angels In America, about the spread of Aids.
"It addresses the problem of disease, how people respond to it and how to be human," she says. "I was in Mozambique earlier this year during an Aids trip and it was just extraordinary how much support and love there is in places where there is very little else. You find that in extremely barren places love still flourishes.
"There is love everywhere."