Although Olivia Colman’s Oscar triumph in 2019 for The Favourite was a shock to some in Hollywood – with Glenn Close many people’s heart-over-head tip and Lady Gaga’s performance in A Star Is Born also well-received – it came as no surprise to those who have followed her career.
Olivia Colman is 2019’s Best Actress Academy Award winner for her performance in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. In the historical black comedy she plays Queen Anne, the monarch overseeing two cousins vying for the position of her court favourite. The film sees another startling performance from an actress who has never put a foot wrong in front of a camera (be that on television in Broadchurch or The Crown, or film, where she’s really excelled in such work as Paddy Considine’s brilliant Tyrannosaur and the unique drama London Road).
Many in the UK will remember her from Channel 4’s POV comedy Peep Show where she played love interest Sophie in the middle 2000s but her rise to Hollywood stardom has only come more recently following a Golden Globe win and Primetime Emmy Award nomination for her performance in thriller miniseries The Night Manager. Prior to emerging as a screen force in America, she’s wowed audiences on the small and big screen in the UK.
Colman won BAFTA TV Awards for Best Female Comedy Performance for Twenty Twelve and Best Supporting Actress for Accused in 2013, before winning a BAFTA for Best Actress in 2014 for her role as DS Ellie Miller in the ITV crime series Broadchurch. In film she stole scenes in small or supporting roles in Hot Fuzz, The Iron Lady (as Carol Thatcher), Hyde Park on Hudson (as Queen Elizabeth), Locke (alongside Tom Hardy), and worked with The Favourite director Yorgos Lanthimos previously in 2015’s The Lobster.
For me, it was 2011’s Tyrannosaur that showcased Colman’s singular talent for subtle yet devastatingly powerful dramatic performance. In my review I called her a “revelation” and said that despite her co-star Peter Mullan turning in one of his career-best performances, she was better.
“She displays the wholesome Christian ways of [her character] Hannah with reserved timidity that becomes an inward defiance in the face of her abusive husband,” I wrote. “Colman is exceptionally strong in dealing with several very powerful scenes – the quietly affecting scene when she fakes sleep while her husband urinates on her is in stark contrast to the pounding nightclub music underlining her terrified phone calls home begging the violence to stop.”
Inspired by her research for the film, Colman became the patron of the UK charity Tender. The Norwich-born actress, whose character in Tyrannosaur faces the most horrendous physical and emotional torture in the supposed safe haven of her home, says that domestic violence prevention can make a real difference in the lives of young people. The charity Tender uses theatre and the arts to educate young people about how to prevent such violence and abuse.
Now, with The Favourite winning acclaim in the UK (where it won 7 BAFTA awards) and internationally (it was the Venice International Film Festival’s Grand Jury prize winner), she’s not only become a recognisable face in Hollywood but, deservedly, an Oscar winner too. For some, her triumph was a surprise in part because Glenn Close was expected by some to get the “Martin Scorsese-gotta-give-this-person-an-award-treatment” after being nominated many times previously but always missing out. Lady Gaga also threw her hat into the ring for her performance in A Star Is Born.
Perhaps another reason it was a surprise to see Colman on stage is because hers was the only award at the 91st Academy Awards for The Favourite all night (despite ten nominations). Her co-stars, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, both in the running for Best Supporting Actress, lost to Regina King.
In a wonderfully spontaneous and honest acceptance speech, she said: “I have to thank lots of people and if I forget anybody I’ll find you later and give you a massive snog.” She became the 11th British actress to win the Best Actress prize.
The first British woman since 2009 to win the award (when Kate wWinslet triumphed), Colman added after telling the audience she used to dream about this moment while working as a cleaner: “Any little girl who’s practising their speech on the telly – you never know!” She had already endeared herself to the Hollywood crowd before earning a chuckle for blowing a raspberry at the show’s director trying to end her speech.