Olivia Colman is an actress who has very rapidly risen through the ranks of acting stardom. Starting out in superb sitcoms like Peep Show, her acting prowess has taken her to Hollywood blockbuster films and allowed her to become a true icon of the screen. Always an unmissable presence, her appearance in any film is a guarantee there will be something interesting worth watching. Having received her third Academy Award nomination this month, I thought there could be no better occasion to mark my five favourite films from this excellent actress.
The Lobster (2015) dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
The Lobster is a very curious, intriguing film. Set in a dystopian universe which more and more looks like it could become reality, it marks a society in which single individuals are sent to a hotel. There, they have 45 days to find a partner. Should they fail, they will become an animal. Though Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz are the main protagonists, Colman is an overriding presence as the unnamed Hotel Manager, calmly explaining the sheer absurdity of the situation. The film is at its best when it remains within the hotel and Colman’s tenacity, deviance and outright madness plays a big part in that.
The Father (2020) dir. Florian Zeller
Another film largely set within the confines of a single location, The Father was a successful awards winner this time last year, with Anthony Hopkins winning Best Actor aged 83, the oldest to ever do so. However, this means Olivia Colman’s performance as his caring, but distraught, daughter Anne is often forgotten. Portraying a man gradually losing his mental faculties due to dementia, it is a heartbreaking, searing examination of the cost to everyone he knows. It is thanks to Olivia Colman that the film’s heart remains strong.
The Iron Lady (2011) dir. Phyllida Lloyd
Colman’s characters are not always fictional. Any politics geek like myself will know The Iron Lady can only refer to one woman. Originally coined by the Soviets as a pejorative term, it was a label Margaret Thatcher took and embraced. Though it was Meryl Streep who would win her third Oscar for a superb portrayal of Thatcher’s life after Number 10, Olivia Colman was again the caring daughter who wanted the best for her mother. As Thatcher’s mind lost its sense of time and place, Colman’s character kept her grounded in the present.
The Favourite (2018) dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
At last, Colman was given the chance not just to care for the powerful but to be powerful herself. It was her performance as Queen Anne in The Favourite which rightly won Colman her first Oscar. Looking at the power struggles in the royal court of the early 18th century, Yorgos Lanthimos, who also directed The Lobster, magnificently cast Colman as mistress of all she surveys. Even as the exceptional Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone compete for her attention, Colman remains the dominant figure which ensures that this film is unforgettable.
The Lost Daughter (2021) dir. Maggie Gyllenhaal
My favourite Olivia Colman film to date is perhaps her most tender, moving and ambiguous film: The Lost Daughter. A superb directorial debut from Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colman portrays Leda, an academic eager to escape her ivory towers for a summer break in Greece. However, it is quickly made clear that all is not what it seems when Colman encounters some fellow holiday makers. Encompassing themes of motherhood, love and loss, Jessie Buckley brilliantly supports as a younger version of Leda. Travelling back and forth in time, this immensely captivating narrative works only because of Colman’s true talent for telling a story, embedding a role and giving absolute heart and soul to her performance. It is to the Academy’s shame that this wasn’t nominated for Best Picture while Don’t Look Up was.