• Olivia Colman has been tapped to take over from Claire Foy as QEII in Netflix hit The Crown. (Getty Images)
A national living treasure in Britain, Colman hadn’t quite hit the Helen Mirren level of international stardom until now. Well, about bloody time.
By
Stephen A Russell

14 Nov 2019 - 9:46 AM  UPDATED 18 Nov 2019 - 4:32 PM

When her royal highness Olivia Colman swept onto the 91st Academy Awards stage to accept the Best Actress Oscar for her turn as wildly eccentric and reclusive Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite (2018), it felt like an overdue coronation.

Self-admittedly tipsy, she squeaked wide-eyed that, “This is genuinely quite stressful.” The sweetest (and funniest) speech of the night, her obvious shock was bolstered by an apology to her “idol” Glenn Close for pipping the Dangerous Liaisons star to the post that’s infamously eluded her.

There was also a cute shout-out to co-stars Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz playing duelling manipulators Lady Sarah and her social climber cousin Abigail. When she deemed them, “the two loveliest women in the world to fall in love with,” those who weren’t already aware of Colman’s kooky magnificence were probably besotted.

 

A national living treasure in Britain, until recently the Norwich-born-and-raised brilliance of Colman hadn’t quite hit the Helen Mirren/Emma Thompson-levels of international stardom she truly deserves. That’s about to change big time now – following her wildly popular role as the prickly Godmother on Fleabag -- she’s been tapped to take over from Claire Foy as QEII in Netflix hit The Crown.

About bloody time. This year’s glittering haul for The Favourite – including a Golden Globe and the Venice Film Festival's Volpi Cup for Best Actress – has been a long time coming. Even the BAFTAs, to their great shame, took forever to recognise Colman. 

As if embarrassed by the oversight, they finally went all-in in 2013, bestowing upon her Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme for fab Olympic organisation spoof Twenty Twelve, and Best Supporting Actress for her guest role in legal drama Accused.

It was a vintage year in which she also bowed as D.S. Ellie Miller in Broadchurch. If you want a crash course in just how deserved this recognition is, now’s the time to mainline the box set on SBS on Demand.

Arguably her most significant role until her recent two-fold crowning glory, she plays opposite not one, but two Doctor Who leads in alumni David Tennant, as D.I. Alec Hardy, and current contender Jodie Whittaker, as grieving mother Beth Latimer.

Ellie fumes on returning from leave to discover Hardy’s out-of-towner parachuted into the top job she’d had her eyes on for an age. This irksome elevation sets her off on a furious swear-a-thon, her flustered displeasure heightened by his haughty ambivalence.

All the more infuriating because he notoriously flubbed his last big case. The snub is exacerbated when a shocking murder rocks the sleepy coastal town in which, not unlike a David Lynch drama, everyone has a dark secret.

One of television's gloriously cranky odd couples, their niggling love-to-hate-you barbs are pure gold, never more so than a grudgingly given and received dinner invite in season one.

Created by Chris Chibnall, who’s currently helming Whittaker in Who, Broadchurch deftly weaves tragedy with comedy and Colman nails the classic British deadpan daggers wrapped up in a snarky velvet glove. Plus season two adds Charlotte Rampling, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Meera Syal and Phoebe freaking Waller-Bridge for the win.

Speaking of the latter, the also currently ruling the world Waller-Bridge cast Colman as her deliciously wicked Godmother from hell in mighty hit Fleabag (2016), where she coolly unleashes a barrage of stealth bomb scathing put-downs.

Before this celebrity blow up, Colman guest-starred in Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor Who debut story. Continuing the Who connections, Whittaker also appeared in Accused, as did Christopher Eccleston and Peter Capaldi.

Many folks will recognise Colman as the unfortunate Sophie Chapman in Peep Show (2003), the cult hit sitcom using voyeuristic first-person point-of-view camera perspectives. Caught in a half-hearted love triangle with leads David Mitchell and Robert Webb, the trio started out together with short-lived comedy sketch show Bruiser (2000).

Collaborating on several projects, Colman jumped ship before the end of Peep Show, with apparently teary goodbyes prompted by her agent suggesting she needed to broaden her horizons. And boy have they broadened, post-Broadchurch. She’s also fantastic as a gender-flipped intelligence officer in BBC’s Le Carré adaptation The Night Manager (2016) alongside Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Debicki, and in their recent Les Misérables (2019) re-do.

While The Favourite is Colman’s biggest silver screen hit, it’s far from her first rodeo. She has a small but scene-stealing cameo as a hotel owner in Lanthimos’ The Lobster (2015), and played a naturist in Debbie Isitt’s mockumentary Confetti (2006). Cop an earful of innuendo as she steals the show with her saucy turn as PC Doris Thatcher in Edgar Wright’s meat in the sandwich centre of the Cornetto Trilogy, Hot Fuzz (2007)

Proving her dramatic chops, Colman was devastating opposite Peter Mullan in Paddy Considine’s harrowing, BAFTA and Venice-award winning debut short, Dog Altogether. Expanded into the feature-length Tyrannosaur (2011), the domestic violence drama picked up another BAFTA and two Sundance gongs, including a shared acting triumph for Mullan and her.

We’ll just skip over her turn as Margaret Thatcher’s daughter Carol alongside Meryl Streep in pretty whiffy The Iron Lady (2011), save to say that Streep’s a huge fan, from one queen to another. 

While we await her regal return in The Crown, catch up with Broadchurch and remind yourself how lovely Colman really is with her delightfully gobsmacked appearance in the British version of Who Do You Think You Are?  (Monday 18 November 7.30pm) Whatever her answer to that question, to us she’ll always be right royally brilliant. 

Watch Oliva Colman in three seasons of huge hit show Broadchurch at SBS On Demand now.