“I am just an actor – all I do is I memorise someone else’s words and tart around.” – Oliva Colman
Having grown from the obscurity of British comedy to the heights of Hollywood greatness, Olivia Colman is recognised as one of the most beloved actors of contemporary cinema thanks to her versatile performances on the big and small screen. Picking up the Oscar for Best Actress in 2019 for her role as Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, Colman has since ascended to rank among the finest working actors in the industry.
First appearing in the TV comedy series Bruiser alongside several other iconic British actors including David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Martin Freeman and Matthew Holness, Colman continued to work with many of this mini-comedy troupe for the likes of The Mitchell and Webb Situation and Peep Show at the very start of the 21st century. More recently, she has diverted away from television to star in the Oscar-touted drama The Lost Daughter from Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Bursting onto the scene at the very dawn of the new millennium, Olivia Colman has already managed to work with the likes of Yorgos Lanthimos, Paddy Considine, Edgar Wright, Florian Zeller, Steven Knight, an impressive range of names given her relatively short career. With no doubt that Colman is merely at the very edge of her potential as an actor, let’s take a look into her ten finest performances from TV and film, to date.
Olivia Colman’s 10 greatest performances:
10. Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007)
With a career built on the foundations of comedy, it should come as no surprise that Olivia Colman has excellent timing when it comes to the quick-fire jokes of Edgar Wright’s influential 2007 comedy, Hot Fuzz.
Appearing alongside an impressive ensemble British cast that includes the likes of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy and Alice Lowe, Colman shines through as a Bristolian-sounding police officer with little care for doing her job. Stealing the show with several key moments of comedy, although Colman only plays a small role in this strange buddy-cop thriller, she certainly gives it her all.
9. Flowers (Will Sharpe, 2016)
Released shortly after the final series of Peep Show and long after her early comedy efforts on the small screen, Flowers bridged the gap between Colman’s talents as a comedian and a dramatic performer.
A strange, dark comedy from Channel 4, Colman starred as Deborah, the troubled mother of a peculiar family that included Daniel Rigby and Sophia Di Martino as idiosyncratic older children and Julian Barratt as a children’s author who is unable to write another smash hit. Grounding the series’ surprisingly touching moments of sincerity whilst elevating its comedic moments, Colman’s deadpan performance is integral to the quality of Flowers.
8. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)
The first collaboration Olivia Colman made with Yorgos Lanthimos is a peculiar genre hybrid of romance and dark comedy that follows a commune of singletons who are forced into finding love.
Playing the manager of this hotel playing cupid is Olivia Colman who adds her own dose of surreal theatricality to the proceedings, making it feel as if we’re experiencing a pantomime rather than a sincere adult getaway. Playing a supporting role alongside the talents of Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux and John C. Reilly, Colman’s compelling performance gives genuine intrigue to her minor character.
7. The Crown (Peter Morgan, 2016)
The jewel in Netflix’s streaming crown is, no doubt, The Crown, a glittering drama following the history of the British royal family that stars Olivia Colman as part of an ensemble including Claire Foy, Imelda Staunton, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby and Lesley Manville.
Playing the lead role of Queen Elizabeth II, Colman carries a sense of grace and power in her own performance, inheriting the character from Claire Foy in the third series of the programme. Bringing an air of hopelessness to her character, Colman well translates the dissatisfaction that Queen Elizabeth had with her own family shortly before the death of Princess Diana at the turn of the new millennium.
6. The Father (Florian Zeller, 2020)
In this heart-wrenching drama from theatre writer and filmmaker Florian Zeller, Colman plays the daughter of a man suffering from dementia as he slowly loses his grip on reality and on the memories of those he loves so dearly.
An emotional and often difficult watch, Colman brings a quotidian normality to her performance that easily allows the viewer to sympathise with her character as she appears no different from the everyday viewer of the film itself. Alongside the Oscar-winning performance of Anthony Hopkins and the likes of Imogen Poots and Mark Gatiss, Colman helps to create an intricate modern masterpiece.
5. Peep Show (Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, Andrew O’Connor, 2003)
Ranking among the finest comedies of British history, Peep Show has transcended the plain of being a mere TV show, suffusing itself into the very identity of contemporary national popular culture.
Appearing as part of the main cast of characters, Colman plays Sophie Chapman, the figure of Mark Corrigan’s (David Mitchell) deepest desires before transforming into something very different as the show went on. Dramatically versatile and consistently hilarious, Colman is helped by the terrific writing of her own character though this shouldn’t take away from her own dynamic performance all the way from series one to series nine.
4. The Lost Daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal, 2021)
The most recent film starring Olivia Colman is touted for great awards success, and for good reason too, starring the actor as a woman on a beach vacation whose troubled past rears its head on a relaxing beach vacation.
Directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal and based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante, Colman features Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson and Ed Harris in this wistful, emotional drama. Led by a poignant, nuanced performance from Colman in the lead role, Maggie Gyllenhaal creates a mysterious film about the struggles of parenthood and the absence that is left behind in its wake.
3. Broadchurch (Chris Chibnall, 2013)
Carrying the show along with her co-star David Tennant for three long thrilling series, Olivia Colman helps to elevate Broadchurch high above the formulaic boundaries of the serial crime genre.
Gruelling and intense, the series breaks down the barriers of expectations, creating a truly compelling tale that rivals that of True Detective or Fargo. Putting the viewer at the heart of the intense drama, Colman’s emotionally-wrought performance helps to make the show feel more than just a throwaway crime story, adding a human weight to the story of the brutal murder of a small child.
2. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018)
Winning Colman the Academy Award at the 2019 Academy Awards, Yorgos Lanthimos’ thrilling period drama stars the actor as a frail and insecure Queen Anna whose position is manipulated by the arrival of a brand new servant.
With Nicholas Hoult, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz supporting, Colman is given the space and platform to be able to perform to her highest level as Queen Anne, well reflecting the royal figure’s volatile temperament. Drawing on her time on the likes of Bruiser and Peep Show, Colman’s performance is also scattered with comedic moments, making every one of her scenes stand out as she plays an unignorable idiosyncratic figure of power.
1. Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine, 2011)
Released shortly before the actor received her most prestigious roles in the 2010s, Tyrannosaur saw Colman take on her most dramatically demanding film yet, delivering a distressing and utterly compelling performance in Paddy Considine’s indie marvel.
Playing Hannah, a Christian charity shop worker in this bleak British drama, Colman’s character is forced to endure the torment of her abusive husband, James (Eddie Marsan) whilst Joseph (Peter Mullan) feels compelled to save her from such misery. Tyrannosaur is no easy watch, being bleak in both theme and colour palette as it explores issues of emotional abuse and violent redemption, though Colman’s central performance is so impressive that director Paddy Considine finds beauty even in the most unlikely of places.