Books ‘have played a huge role in my life’: actress Emily Mortimer on the power of literature

Emily Mortimer, star of upcoming film The Bookshop alongside Bill Nighy, discusses her love of all things literary

Emily Mortimer getty

Emily Mortimer has something to confess. “I’ve been talking so glowingly about the role of books in my life, but my biggest treat is to read crappy, terrible magazines… but then I feel disgusted by myself!”


It’s an unlikely revelation from Mortimer, considering her latest role is playing Florence Green in The Bookshop (in cinemas from Friday 29th June). The film is based on the 1978 novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, in which a woman’s decision to open a bookshop stirs up tensions in a coastal town in 1950s England.

But Mortimer clearly has much in common with Florence – her admission comes in the midst of an enthusiastic near-sermon about books, which, she says, “have played a huge role in my life… the times when they’ve been more present I think of as the happy times”.

If anything, Mortimer’s done a little too much reading; she grew up in a bookish household (her father was Rumpole of the Bailey author John Mortimer) and went on to study English and Russian literature at Oxford. “Reading still sometimes feels a bit like homework,” she says.

Watch the trailer for The Bookshop, starring Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy

Like Florence, Mortimer is emphatic about the power of books: “There’s this moral certainty right now that I find really scary,” she says. “But books are where the grey areas of life are examined, which is so important.” Mortimer calls books “the spoils of your life”, and hers are to be found in the Brooklyn home she shares with her husband, actor Alessandro Nivola, and their two children, Samuel and May.

Has she ever pictured her own book on those shelves? After all, she co-wrote Doll & Em, the comedy TV series she devised and starred in with her childhood friend Dolly Wells. But Mortimer is unsure. “Writing a novel feels scary… but maybe! I do find writing very cathartic. It’s so hard to sort your way through what you think and feel, and by writing things down you magically manage to get a bit of clarity.”


The Bookshop hits UK cinemas on Friday 29th June

Sign for the free newsletter