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Emma Thompson: How Jane Austen saved me from going under

The actress reveals how adapting 'Sense and Sensibility' for the screen helped her to recover from depression

The Oscar-winning actress and writer Emma Thompson reveals today how adapting Jane Austen for the screen saved her "from going under", as her marriage to her first husband and fellow thespian Kenneth Branagh disintegrated.

Thompson, 50, the first, and so far only, person to win an Oscar for both best actress (Howards End) and later best screenplay (Sense and Sensibility in 1995), also describes how she earlier battled clinical depression.

"I can remember the only thing I could do was write," she tells Kirsty Young on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. "Ken had an old black cashmere dressing gown I'd given him one Christmas, and he was gone – he wasn't living at home – and I used to put it on and crawl from the bedroom to the computer and sit and write. Then I was all right because I was not present. And Sense and Sensibility really saved me from going under."

Thompson is currently starring in Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, released last Friday. She made her name in films such as Howards End and The Remains of the Day, after cutting her teeth in the Cambridge Footlights with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry.

It was her current husband, the actor Greg Wise whom she met filming Sense and Sensibility in her mid-thirties, who helped her recover.

"My first bout was when I was doing Me and My Girl when I really didn't change my clothes and couldn't answer the phone," she says. "But I went into the theatre every night and was cheerful and sang 'The Lambeth Walk'.

"I think my first bout was an actual clinical depression. When my dad died, my mum [actress Phyllida Law] was in a farce. The day he died she was on stage. That's what actors do. In a sense work saved me – and Greg saved me because he picked up the pieces and put them back together again."

Speaking about the death of her father, Eric, the creator of The Magic Roundabout, at just 52, she says: "Losing him tore us to pieces."

She chooses a recording of her father singing "Florence it's a Lovely Morning", from the film The Magic Roundabout: Dougal and the Blue Cat, as one of her discs, among others including Tom Waits's "Hold On".

'Desert Island Discs' is broadcast on Radio 4 today at 11.15am, repeated on Friday at 9am