At the turn of the new millennium, the British film industry was adopting a devious plan to market the country to the rest of the world. Led by the whimsical joys of Richard Curtis, this vision of Great Britain was one that existed only in the fantasies of fictional texts, depicting an overwhelmingly homogeneous country populated by upper-class posh people living in either exclusive London flats or quaint country homes (situated just outside of London). The figurehead for such a cultural charge was so often a tussle between Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, a feud that even comes to a physical head in Bridget Jones’ Diary.
Living in the background of the perfectly imperfect society of Blair’s Britain, films such as the Bridget Jones series, Love Actually and About a Boy presented an idealistic fictional portrait of the country, complete with awkward humour and bumbling stereotypes. There was truly none better to lead the industry in such a time of British marketing as the well-groomed looks of the smart Colin Firth and the scruffy charm magnet Hugh Grant.
Such made the former the perfect conduit for contemporary British values, being a tall, handsome, well-spoken man with the acting chops seemingly to make any American woman swoon. Colin Firth was carried from one project to the next, used to convey the country’s excellence in everything from the Oscar-winning, The English Patient to the period drama Pride and Prejudice before he would become the face of national romantic comedies.
Becoming the face of modern Britain, Firth would thrive in the glowing positivity of the new century, enjoying popularity in Sharon Maguire’s Bridget Jones’s Diary in 2001 and Richard Curtis’ Love Actually in 2003. So marketable was his identity outside of Great Britain that he began to appear in American romantic comedies too, in Then She Found Me, The Accidental Husband and the wildly popular Mamma Mia.
Colin Firth was the smart British stud and the man on the mantelpiece at the BFI with seemingly no limits to his marketability. Though, as the positivity of the new millennium waned and the troubling issues of the 21st century began to set in, this version of Great Britain started to become less appealing, so Firth found a new avenue. In 2011, The King’s Speech ripped through the 83rd Academy Awards, with Colin Firth picking up an Oscar statuette for his role as King George VI and the film itself picking up the Best Picture award.
The film itself is great, though overshadowed by the marketing mastermind that punctuated the project. Starring an actor well known for his worldwide popularity in a role, and a story, of royal importance that stands as a reminder of the most excellent magnet to English tourism, the legacy of The King’s Speech still stands as one of British cinema’s greatest achievements.
Moving with the winds and attitudes of the times, Colin Firth now embodies the classic ‘Englishman’, equally strapping as he is charming, bringing sophistication to Kingsman: The Secret Service, Mary Poppins Returns and 1917. In the films that best reflect the most marketable parts of British culture and history, you can be sure Colin Firth will be present, embodying an icon of tourism in and of himself.