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An Exploration of The Splendid Allure of Emily Blunt

Time and time again, the versatile leading lady epitomizes an impressively malleable, unforgettable screen presence.
Emily Blunt A Quiet Place
Paramount Pictures
By  · Published on June 15th, 2021

Welcome to Filmographiesa column for completists. Every edition brings a working actor’s resumé into focus as we learn about what makes them so compelling. In this entry, we spotlight the filmography of Emily Blunt.

Emily Blunt is so damn lovable. While it’s true that the prolific actress has played very many expressly likable characters across her nearly-20-year career, we can always appreciate how she portrays them all with an unwavering commitment to believability. Blunt ensnares our senses in even the most problematic narratives and demands that audiences look beyond her signature sultry pout and enigmatic icy gaze that Hollywood executives love to bank on. This edition of Filmographies examines a selection of Blunt’s most challenging and intriguing big-screen roles, illustrating her authenticity and why she remains one of our favorite lead actors.

My Summer of Love (2004)

Blunt made her cinematic debut in Paweł Pawlikowski’s My Summer of Love soon after her very first onscreen role in the television movie Boudica. The highly-lauded BAFTA-nominated drama immediately catapults her to center stage as the co-lead in a drama that tells of a heady summer courtship set in the sticky heat of West Yorkshire.

Blunt plays Tamsin, one half of a tentative fiery romance opposite Natalie Press’s Mona. The girls come from drastically different socioeconomic backgrounds, although they both yearn for the promise of escape from the perceived mundanity of their lives. In Tamsin’s case — despite being a worldly Nietzsche-reading, cello-playing, wine-drinking privately-educated girl — her privileged upper-middle-class upbringing feels repressive and suffocating. In the wake of her sister’s untimely death, her parents don’t seem to pay her much mind, let alone care about her.

Therefore, Blunt gets the opportunity to dive headfirst into Tamsin’s intoxicating fantasies — simultaneously hungrily ardent and vexingly unreadable. We can’t help but trust in Tamsin’s warm exaltations of love for Mona. Yet, that same openness is so candid that it becomes overbearing and suspicious. Contradictorily, the world of My Summer of Love is decidedly dull and depressing without Tamsin, which Mona and the audience are irrevocably and dangerously transfixed by. In leaving us breadcrumbs throughout a film that keeps her character within our periphery, Blunt romances us and ultimately betrays us in turn.

Gideon’s Daughter (2006)

TV appearances in Foyle’s War, Henry VIII, and Empire serve Blunt well in the interim between Pawlikowski’s film and the promise of high-profile success. The most noteworthy of her small-screen projects is Stephen Poliakoff’s drama Gideon’s Daughter, which would go on to clinch Blunt the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

Blunt stars alongside the incomparable Bill Nighy as his eponymous distant offspring who resents his philandering, unreliable ways. Tired of apparently being a lesser priority to her publicist father, Blunt’s Natasha shuts him out completely, haunting the fraying edges of the narrative and bolstering its critiques of the hollowed-out fancies of the celebrity lifestyle.

A large portion of her role requires her to internalize Natasha’s pain. We rarely catch a glimpse of the character without her purposely numbing herself to be around her father. Blunt’s eyes often brim with tears whenever she shoots Nighy a steely glare — a simple gesture that perfectly captures Natasha’s isolation.

This understated performance depicts a different, more realistic side of youthful angst than her work in My Summer of Love and the Australian mystery drama Irresistible. The latter two films allow her to explore characters whose overeager amiability disguise multitudes of torment, creating dangerous obsessions out of her infectious charisma. Meanwhile, Gideon’s Daughter exhibits a sense of gripping enigma that undeniably enraptures us even when Blunt is offscreen.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

The mid-aughts classic The Devil Wears Prada marks Blunt’s definitive breakout on a worldwide scale. As a Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway starrer, David Frankel’s film already flaunts exemplary merits as an actors’ showcase. Blunt then swoops in, flexes some serious comedic muscle, and becomes a total scene-stealer.

The movie follows a fresh-faced college graduate named Andy (Hathaway) who lands the coveted spot as a co-assistant to the infamously authoritative fashion magazine editor, Miranda Priestly (Streep). Suddenly thrust into the mercilessly cutthroat world of luxury fashion, Andy must learn the ropes from Blunt’s Emily Charlton, Miranda’s “original” high-strung personal assistant.

Although an admirably hard worker with an ambitious go-getting disposition, the snarky and temperamental Emily displays a “rigorous” work ethic that is greatly warped by both Priestly’s and the fashion world’s untenable demands. This results in the image of a perpetually frazzled young woman who hates whatever “competition” stands in the way of her career — one that she has sacrificed her entire being for.

Emily’s plight is so indelible and impactful because she is blisteringly funny amid her tragically relatable workplace anxiety. The contrast between the character’s self-seriousness and the sass employed by the witty, confident Blunt — who improvised one of the movie’s most memorable lines and even spoofed herself in The Muppets years later — ensures that even the minor subplots of The Devil Wears Prada are extraordinarily appealing. Blunt’s deadpan comedic timing is spot-on, and she lends importantly recognizable humanity to a character so heavily assimilated into corporate culture.

The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)

Of several characters in Blunt’s early career that skew towards the less likable — including a couple of relatively inconsequential appearances in Dan in Real Life and Charlie Wilson’s War — nothing tops her role in the romantic-comedy The Jane Austen Book Club. In fact, dubbing Blunt’s character — an intensely uptight woman named Prudie — “austere” would be a severe understatement.

Based on Karen Joy Fowler’s 2004 novel of the same name, the film follows an eponymous six-member book club that comes together in a bid to foster relationships old and new. Ultimately though, Austen’s literature takes a backseat to the circumstances of the members’ personal lives that suddenly seem to mirror the novels they’ve chosen to discuss.

An Austen purist, Prudie just longs for the kind of love she reads in those books. Being an unhappily married, begrudging teacher of high school French is a far cry from where she’d rather be in life. And unfortunately, for all of Prudie’s smarts, her desperation for excitement inspires discord in her social life and gets her sucked into an icky heat-of-the-moment crush on one of her students.

To Blunt’s credit, she treads the line of Prudie’s practiced restraint and potential reckless abandon with adroit purpose. The persistent tension radiating from her thin frame alone is enough to reflect the ongoing ethical storm of Prudie’s life — one that unrelentingly draws her towards self-destruction at a seemingly unstoppable pace. Of course, we can’t forget how prissy the character is, although that’s a given considering her name. In the end, Blunt makes Prudie so accessible that while we may disagree with her life choices, we’re wont to understand how she got there.

Sunshine Cleaning (2008)

Blunt’s repertoire eventually expanded to include fewer outright caricatures the more she regularly attains leading lady roles. First came Sean McGinly’s The Great Buck Howard, which — although lovely — merely serves as a more generic opportunity for Blunt to portray the affable love interest.

Meanwhile, Christine Jeffs’s Sunshine Cleaning endures one of her most accomplished indie dramas to date due to its comparatively more complex characterizations. In the vein of traditional burnout coming-of-age stories, the movie follows the down-on-their-luck Lorkowski sisters Rose (Amy Adams) and Norah (Blunt). Essentially, the former is the more responsible but unfortunately overextended sister; the latter is an unmotivated slacker. But when Norah gets dragged into Rose’s strange new business proposition — biohazard disposal and crime scene cleanup — both women discover an outlet for their shared family trauma, ironically garnering a new lease on life.

Sunshine Cleaning is a two-hander that heavily relies on Adams’s and Blunt’s spontaneous, hilarious chemistry as vastly dichotomous siblings. They effortlessly bring these woefully flawed struggling women to life by ensuring that viewers stay invested in their complicated sisterhood. For Blunt specifically, she delicately creates powerfully profound if misguided layers out of Norah’s baggage. The character’s sweet and funny side never quite reconciles the mistakes she’s made. Blunt is always tuned into changeable human intricacies, and that is precisely what makes her so enjoyable to watch.

The Young Victoria (2009)

Thus far in Blunt’s career, her niche in the market of the modern woman has grown sizeable. Remarkably, though Jean-Marc Vallée’s monarchy biopic The Young Victoria swiftly thrusts her into a definitive, lavish British period piece, she only continues to foster a timely, empowering depiction in her game-changing performance as Queen Victoria.

The Julian Fellowes-penned film spotlights the early years of Victoria’s ascent to the throne. It chronicles various political changes of the era and focuses on the Queen’s budding relationship with Albert of Sax Coburg and Gotha (Rupert Friend).

Blunt capably translates these glossy dramatic moments into something genuine, boasting a powerful, regal countenance despite her evident youth. She digs equally deep into Victoria’s stoic independence and the girlishness of her passionate heart, letting these qualities mature organically amid the many abrupt upheavals present during the Queen’s reign.

The character’s sheltered lifestyle is anything but lenient. She fights for her freedom of expression and action with virtually everyone in the film. However, Blunt’s conviction in her portrayal of Victoria’s ideals sells her stance admirably. She and Friend, who nurture a vivid, full-bodied romantic dynamic, are exceptionally magnetic opposite one another, too. It’s safe to say that Blunt — with her many delightful facets — operates as the brilliant crux of The Young Victoria.

Wild Target (2010)

Blunt’s next crack at a British film takes a discernibly irreverent turn. She reunites with Nighy in Jonathan Lynn’s black comedy Wild Target, which follows a lonely hitman-for-hire constantly foiled by a beautiful con artist.

In this retelling of the 1993 French film of the same name, Blunt plays Rose — the thief in question — whose latest crime involves swindling nearly a million pounds from an erratic London mob boss. Although Nighy’s methodical assassin must track her down, he soon finds himself thoroughly charmed and conflicted by her.

Honestly, do we really blame him? Blunt wholly embodies the slick thrills and biting wit of the movie’s blatantly ridiculous premise while also bumbling through the story in an endearingly goofy way. She moreover relishes Rose’s predilection to be conniving, manipulative, and volatile, exemplifying the antithesis of her aged counterpart and setting up their caustic banter exquisitely. Blunt is simply pure, unadulterated fun in this movie.

Your Sister’s Sister (2011)

Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister solidifies Blunt’s veritable station as a contemplative indie star. Her role in this comedy-drama feels like a logical next step in the evolution of her compassionate approach to character work. Similar to how Sunshine Cleaning succeeds in cultivating a startlingly authentic narrative within the confines of a structured, if kind of peculiar, comedic plot, Your Sister’s Sister unspools the neuroses of the human condition in its own quirky, naturalistic way.

The movie centers on three young adults, all at a vital cross-section of their lives. Jack (Mark Duplass) is still reeling from his brother’s untimely death a year earlier. To hopefully lift his spirits, his loving best friend (and brother’s ex-girlfriend), Iris (Blunt), invites him to stay at her family’s isolated cabin to recharge and recuperate. Out of the blue, Iris’s newly single older sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) shows up and falls into bed with Jack, causing the group’s previously unaddressed interpersonal issues to surface unavoidably.

To some degree, Your Sister’s Sister was improvised — a process that undoubtedly demands its actors’ to genuinely engage with deeper personal impressions of their characters and puts their onscreen chemistry to the utmost test. Blunt’s willingness to wear her heart on her sleeve throughout the film makes her look like a master of the technique. Iris practically quivers with excitement and awe at the prospect of having her loved ones alongside her and with each other, which then informs the innermost anxieties that drive her as a person. Without any overt exposition, we get to know the tiniest details about Iris because Blunt is such a commanding, accommodating performer in the slice-of-life genre. She turns in the kind of immersive performance that lets you forget any shoehorned melodrama entirely.

Explore more of Emily Blunt’s filmography on the next page…

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)