Why Olivia Colman Was a Favorite in the U.K. Long Before 'The Favourite'

3:31 AM 2/24/2019

by Alex Ritman

Six roles that helped earn her National Treasure status on her home soil years before the Oscars came calling.

Olivia Colman-Golden Globes 2019-Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of NBC

Thanks to her Oscar-nominated turn as the insane, duck- and lobster-racing monarch Queen Anne in The Favourite, Olivia Colman has become something of a household name in Hollywood.

But for many Brits across the Atlantic, the actress was already a much-loved big and small screen star before Yorgos Lanthimos cast her in his absurdist period piece, with a career spanning almost 20 years coupled with a delightfully down-to-earth and self-deprecating personality that shone through every interview.

As Colman prepares for the biggest awards night of the year — and the chance to claim the most prestigious prize of them all — The Hollywood Reporter picks out six classic Colman roles that any new fan should be aware of. 



  • 'Peep Show'

    For many in the U.K., no matter how many glittering statuettes Olivia Colman accumulates, she will forever be Sophie (or "Soph"), the long-term and mostly unstable on-off-on-off girlfriend-then-wife-then-divorcee-then-mother to the child of Mark on Peep Show, the cult Brit TV comedy that ran from 2003 until 2015 on Channel 4. Colman appeared in all nine series of the show, albeit in a reduced capacity towards the end as other steady work started to flow. Naturally, she ended with a typical drunken bang, asleep in a ball pit while Mark tried to chat up another subject of his infatuation nearby.

  • 'Tyrannosaur'

    Colman’s first major film role was something of a dramatic transformation, a step away from the comedic trajectory she’d been plotting with the help of Peep Show and other series including Green Wing, Look Around You and That Mitchell and Webb Look for something altogether darker. In Paddy Considine’s highly acclaimed directorial debut, she starred opposite Peter Mullan as Hannah, a good Samaritan and horrendously abused wife. Tyrannosaur would earn Colman a clutch of awards, including her first British Independent Film Award (for best actress), for which she has since won each time she’s been nominated. When she failed to make the shortlist for the 2012 BAFTAs, such was the outrage that she began trending on Twitter.

  • 'The Iron Lady'

    Meryl Streep may have landed the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd’s biopic, but it was Colman who turned heads across the Atlantic, playing her patient daughter Carol. With The Iron Lady landing the same year as Tyrannosaur, the two films saw her earn the London Film Critics’ Circle award for best actress, something which she repeated last month for The Favourite. 

  • 'Broadchurch'

    The duo of Colman as local detective sergeant Ellie Miller and David Tennant as detective inspector Alec Hardy proved an irresistible factor in the hit crime series, set in a close-knit British seaside community plunged into darkness following the death of a young child. Despite its distinctly English setting, Broadchurch's fan base rose with each of the three seasons in the U.S. on BBC America, with Colman's moving performance hailed as a decisive factor, landing her both International Emmy and BAFTA TV nominations in the process. 

  • 'The Lobster'

    Colman may not have had one of the key roles in The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos' absurdist dystopian comedy and English-language debut, which bowed in Cannes in 2015. But the film, in which she played the manager of a hotel where guests have 45 days to find a partner else be transformed into an animal (of course), would still earn her a British Independent Film Award for best supporting actress (her third BIFA win following Tyrannosaur and 2012's Hyde Park on the Hudson). And it would — crucially — be her first collaboration with Lanthimos, who was already prepping The Favourite and immediately saw his number one target for Queen Anne. 



  • 'The Night Manager'

    The Night Manager was one of the biggest TV talking points of 2016, the AMC/BBC spy series — based on the John Le Carre novel — awash in 007-style sex, glamour and exotic locations. While much of the focus was on Tom Hiddleston's titular star, Colman received high praise as Angela Burr, the British intelligence operative dedicated to bringing down Hugh Laurie's arms dealer — mostly — from the confines of a drab, cold London office, a role the actress undertook while also being pregnant with her third child. She landed her first Golden Globe nomination and award, for best supporting actress- series, miniseries or television film, returning three years later to repeat the feat — this time for best actress- motion picture musical or comedy — for The Favourite.