Celebrating Olivia Colman’s Best Roles

As the awards circuit applauds Olivia Colman for her starring role in The Favourite, we tip a cap to some of her brilliant past work…

Olivia Colman The Crown
Photo: Netflix

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Collie to her friends. Sarah on her birth certificate. Sophie from Peep Show to you and me. Sweary, smiley sandwich woman to Golden Globe Awards Ceremony audiences around the world. Olivia Colman’s name is currently everywhere, being spelled slightly incorrectly.

Colman’s role as Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’ comedy drama The Favourite has rightly earned her a royal cortege of nominations and awards (including, as announced today, another Bafta), in addition to the existing train of nominations and awards she’s earned since stepping out of the comedy enclosure to make 2011 drama Tyrannosaur. Before playing abused wife Hannah in Paddy Considine’s directorial debut feature, Colman was known as a comic actor. Since then, she’s played just as much tragedy, and, in her very best roles, both at the same time.

Colman beams talent and wit, works hard and often, and has proven her ability to liven up any production that casts her (which, blessedly, is most of them. Keep up the good work, UK casting directors.).

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In this country, we love Olivia Colman like we love cheese and pickle, or a sunny day, or the perfect temperature cup of tea. Because like all those things, when she’s around, it feels like things are going to be alright.

read more: Oscars 2019 Predictions and Frontrunners

Here are our picks of her best roles so far…

DS Ellie Miller – Broadchurch

When Dorset detective DS Ellie Miller threatened to piss in a cup and throw it at new colleague DI Hardy (David Tennant), Broadchurch viewers fell in love. When she munched a Scotch egg sitting on a seawall, or giggled about vibrators in a bus shelter with Jodie Whittaker, that love deepened. We adored Ellie’s instinctive empathy, her good sense, her spine of steel and her orange cagoule. When her heart was broken by an awful betrayal, we even loved it for breaking too.

Deborah Flowers – Flowers

Over two series of Channel 4 dark comedy Flowers, Colman has played Deborah, wife to depressive children’s author Maurice (Julian Barratt) and mother to eccentric twentysomething twins Donald and Amy. Deborah is a model of brittle Britishness, frantically glossing over life’s worries with a manic laugh and insisting on her family’s fineness through force of will. Flowers’ serious themes make use of Colman’s fluent ability to move between absurd laughs and real feeling.

Sophie Chapman – Peep Show

David Mitchell’s memoir Back Story relates his first encounter with Colman at Cambridge drama club Footlights (she was taking a teaching course at Homerton College but left to study drama at Bristol Old Vic). One of the rare first years to be given a role in the revue, “Collie” seemed unfocused and scatter-brained in rehearsals, wrote Mitchell, but on stage, transformed into an intimidating pro. He felt “flattered to be on the same stage as her and terribly worried that [he] was being visibly outclassed.” From there, Colman, Mitchell and Robert Webb toured a play around UK private schools (during one performance of which Colman laughed so much she wet herself on stage), got agents, then reunited for Peep Show (then called POV). As Mark’s on-off love interest Sophie, Colman was first Mark’s idol and then his torment.

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Sally Owen – Twenty Twelve

The quiet but unignorable PA Sally Owen gave mockumentary Twenty Twelve its romantic heart. Sally loved unhappily married boss Ian Fletcher, Head of Deliverance for the 2012 Olympics, from afar. (Well, not that afar, just from the desk outside his office.) She was his protector and his saviour, his provider of coffees, Danish pastries and solutions to whatever gordion knot he’d tied himself up in that week. After Colman left the series, Sally’s irrepressible efficiency and bittersweet infatuation was much missed.

Alex Smallbone – Rev.

We’ve all tired of the ‘long-suffering wife to a man-child-in-crisis’ role, and though that’s how lawyer Alex Smallbone, spouse to Tom Hollander’s struggling vicar in Rev, may have seemed on paper, it was far from the case. Yes, Alex had to put up with Adam’s shortcomings, and yes, Adam was in an almost continual crisis, but clever writing and Colman’s natural charisma made sure Alex was never just a prop. She was funny and frustrated and flawed just as much as he was (well, maybe not quite as much). The Smallbone marriage took real damage from both Adam’s job and his behavior, and Colman conveyed it all with characteristic wit and emotion.

Hotel Manager – The Lobster

The Favourite was Colman’s second role for director Yorgos Lanthimos. Her first came in 2015 absurdist comedy The Lobster, a deadpan satire on the social requirement of coupling up. In the film, singletons are sent to a hotel where they must match up with another guest within a limited time frame to avoid being turned into an animal. Colman played the hotel manager, a humorless schoolmarm-type running a kind of Butlins of the damned. She kept order, ensured the rules were abided by, and doled out punishment when they weren’t. Even stony-faced and unreadable, she brought her comedic talents to bear.

Nancy Ronstadt – Exile

Paul Abbott’s three-part family thriller Exile gave Colman the chance to do something she does very well – be funny in a serious drama. As wry, down-to-earth Nancy, the daughter and chief carer of her dementia-suffering father Sam, Colman wrapped vulnerability and bitterness in a layer of no-nonsense gallows humor. The part allowed Colman to deliver laughs while conveying the wordless grief of having lost her father yet being unable to escape from him and his needs.

Godmother – Fleabag

In Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s original one-woman stage play, the character of ‘Godmother’ didn’t exist, and was only mentioned in a single line by the lead. For the six-part television adaptation, Waller-Bridge wrote her character’s self-satisfied step-mother into existence, then gave the part to Olivia Colman. Unused to seeing Colman playing nastiness and self-regard, Godmother was a delicious shock for viewers, a creation of horrid brilliance.

Harriet Schulenberg – Green Wing

Part of the HR team at Green Wing’s East Hampton Hospital Trust, Harriet is a harried, put-upon mother-of-four whose chaotic home-life doesn’t so much drip into her work-life as tsunami onto her desk every morning at nine. Or more like half-nine, once the kids have been dropped off at the vet and the cat’s been taken to school. Colman wasn’t one of the stars of Green Wing, Channel 4’s inventive and surreal hospital-set comedy, but she made Harriet an valuable part of its weird tapestry.

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Angela Burr – The Night Manager

The Night Manager may have had glamorous locations, but intelligence operative Angela Burr’s shabby London office wasn’t one of them. As the handler of Tom Hiddleston’s ex-soldier-turned-spy, Angela took on both international arms dealers and shady types in the establishment, all while heavily pregnant. (Colman’s character in the John Le Carré novel was a man. Colman was not.) Bright, capable, and a true goodie, it was always easy to believe that Colman could run spies and fight international arms dealers, all the while draped in flattering knitwear.

Doris Thatcher – Hot Fuzz

Yes, this whole role is just one joke, but Colman tells it so well. Police officer Doris Thatcher is a walking Carry On film, packed with innuendo and naughty outdated lines that whiten the face of Simon Pegg’s by-the-book Nicholas Angel. It’s a minor but memorable role and notable for being the set on which Colman met Paddy Considine, the actor-director whose Tyrannosaur showcased her ability for serious drama.

Hannah – Tyrannosaur

Colman’s performance as quiet, compassionate Hannah, a woman of faith despite being treated abominably by her abusive worm of a husband, was a revelation for Tyrannosaur’s audience, who were more used to seeing the actor deliver laughs. The wretched story of the friendship forged between Hannah and Joseph (Peter Mullan), two people beaten down by life, was the first major step on Colman’s path to the recognition she’s currently receiving.

Sue Brown – Accused

Colman won great acclaim and no shortage of nominations for her role in this Jimmy McGovern gun-crime drama. Part of McGovern’s Accused crime series with social themes, this was the story of Sue’s teenage son being killed in a gang shooting, and her subsequent campaign against gun culture in his memory. Colman played opposite an equally moving performance by Ann-Marie Duff, and perhaps for the first time, showed a primetime BBC audience her dramatic chops.

Queen Anne – The Favourite

This one’s a triumph. As lonely Queen Anne, beset by ill-health and grieving great losses, Colman is both hilarious and tragic. Desperately reliant on her friend and lover Lady Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and manipulated by newcomer to court Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), she’s pathetic in the original sense of the word.

read more: The Favourite Defies Conventional Definitions of the Term “Lead Actress”

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Colman displays an absolute lack of vanity in the role, which sees her alternate between Mr Toad levels of childish impetuousness and scenes in which she conveys tragedy writ so bare on a person’s face you want to look away. But you can’t, because it’s Olivia Colman, and we love her.

And also, obviously, not forgetting this: