Olivia Colman’s Activism Sweetens Her Acting Success

Today, on the fifth anniversary of the U.S. release of The Favourite, FF2 celebrates the incredible talent of actress Olivia Colman. The Favourite, a drama by director Yorgos Lanthimos, sees Olivia as the timid yet dramatic Queen Anne of England. Olivia’s acting intensity and comedic timing, both traits which have defined her career, gleam in the strange and wonderful queer epic. In her review of the film, FF2 contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto called The Favourite a “game-changing period piece” which is both “queer history” and “queering history.” In the onscreen love triangle between Olivia, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, critics agree that Olivia’s anxiety-ridden performance shines. For Olivia’s portrayal of Queen Anne, she received a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and an Academy Award!

Olivia Colman was born on January 30, 1974 in Norwich, England. She attended Norwich High School before continuing her education at Cambridge, studying to become not an actress, but a primary school teacher. However, while in school, Olivia auditioned for Cambridge Footlights, the school’s sketch comedy troupe. Immediately excelling in the world of theater, Olivia left Cambridge after one semester to pursue her passion at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

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A few years after her graduation, Olivia made her debut on BBC Two’s sketch comedy show, Bruiser. Throughout the 2000s, she continued to appear in other television roles, such as on The Office (UK), People Like Us, and Beautiful People. During this time, she also worked heavily in radio acting, using her signature wit to liven up fully-auditory comedic performances. 

In 2011, Olivia starred as a lonely, resilient woman in the film Tyrannosaur, for which she won both a British Independent Film Award and an Empire Award. That same year, Olivia also won a London Film Critics’ Circle Award for her part in The Iron Lady, the Academy Award-winning biopic on Margaret Thatcher.

Broadchurch represented the first role in which I, as a viewer, got to know Olivia. I have been enchanted by her work ever since.

Two years later, in 2013, Olivia starred alongside David Tennant in the murder mystery Broadchurch. Olivia’s portrayal of the caring yet determined detective won her a BAFTA and international recognition. Broadchurch represented the first role for which I, as a viewer, got to know Olivia. Like many others, I have been enchanted by her work ever since.

In 2015, Olivia appeared alongside Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in the Palm d’Or-winning film The Lobster, also directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. For her role, Olivia secured her second British Independent Film Award. As an absurd, slightly surreal film, The Lobster truly offered Olivia an international stage on which to display her wide range of acting capabilities. Though her previous roles all showed her fantastic talent, this film set her apart as a true rising star in the world of acting.

In 2016, Olivia returned to television on BBC’s action-packed The Night Manager. For her role as a task force agent on the show, Olivia was nominated for an Emmy and won a Golden Globe. That same year, she amazed audiences everywhere with her portrayal of Godmother in Fleabag. Fleabag is a fantastic, wholly original, hilarious yet moving series which follows its titular character as she navigates the mess of her life—an amalgamation of her bad choices and those of others, particularly Olivia’s character, Godmother. On Fleabag, Olivia is awful in the best way, bringing comedy, meltdowns, and absolutely zero empathy to a character whose cruel one liners are easily the most quotable in the entire series.

Three years later, Olivia appeared in the third season of the hit Netflix sensation, The Crown. For two seasons, Olivia portrayed Queen Elizabeth II. Though it was no small task to take on the role of such a prominent historical figure—especially one currently living—Olivia was up to par. For her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth, Olivia was awarded two SAGs, an Emmy, and a Golden Globe.

Under the direction of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Olivia gives the performance of a lifetime in The Lost Daughter.

Olivia was nominated for an Academy Award again in 2021 for her performance in The Father. Both she and Anthony Hopkins starred together in the film, a touching and heart-wrenching look into dementia. The same year, she also starred in The Lost Daughter, for which critics praised her performance as Leda, a woman struggling with motherhood. Under the direction of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Olivia gives the performance of a lifetime. Olivia’s presentation of Leda walks the line between liveliness and repression, between selflessness and selfishness, between childlessness and motherhood. She places the viewer into an enchanting discomfort which they would not want to escape from even in the more unwatchable scenes. For The Lost Daughter, Olivia was nominated again for a Golden Globe, SAG, and Academy Award.

The next year, Olivia took on her most recent triumph Empire of Light, for which she received another Golden Globe nomination. The romantic drama, which deals with themes of isolation, racism, and mental health, offered Olivia a way to incorporate her other passions into her acting career. Olivia’s own experiences with postpartum depression have emboldened her to become a mental health advocate within the film industry. Olivia herself was a presenter in the Mind Media Awards, which highlight realistic and sympathetic media portrayals of mental health issues. Though in Empire of Light Olivia does throw herself into the portrayal of a character struggling with bipolar disorder, she does so with compassion and dignity.

On top of constituting one of the most talented and recognized actresses of the modern day, Olivia is also the president of UNICEF UK.

In addition to being an advocate for mental health, Olivia also spends a majority of her time championing women’s rights across the globe. On top of constituting one of the most talented and recognized actresses of the modern day (in case you didn’t total them all up, she has been the recipient of three Golden Globes, two BAFTAs, two Emmys, two SAGs, and one Academy Award!), Olivia is also the president of UNICEF UK!! As president, Olivia oversees and helps to raise life-saving funds for disaster relief for areas across the globe. 

Olivia Colman is truly an inspiration to every single person on Earth. Not only has she helped to define modern notions of what it is to be an actor, but she has made invaluable humanitarian contributions to society at large. Olivia’s monumental talent is only overshadowed by her drive, her kindness, and her humanity. From all of us here at FF2, thank you Olivia.

© Reese Alexander (11/23/23) – Special for FF2 Media


Read Giorgi Plys-Garzotto’s review of The Favourite here.

Read Giorgi’s feature on The Favourite here.

Read Carlotta Plys-Garzotto’s review of Fleabag here.

Visit Olivia’s Wikipedia page here.


Featured Photo/Middle Photo: Olivia Colman as “Queen Anne” in a scene from THE FAVOURITE (2018). Photo Credit: © Twentieth Century Fox / Entertainment Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: PX78KM

Bottom Photo: Olivia Coleman—newest recipient of a Best Actress Oscar for her role as “Queen Anne” in THE FAVOURITE—is all aglow in the press room during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood (CA).  Photo Credit: Jennifer Graylock (2/24/19). Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2F8AJ2Y

Tags: Beautiful People, Broadchurch, Bruiser, Emma Stone, Empire of Light, Fleabag, giorgi plys-garzotto, Olivia Colman, People Like Us, Queen Elizabeth II, Rachel Weisz, The Crown, The Father, the favourite, The Iron Lady, The Lobster, The Lost Daughter, The Night Manager, The Office (UK), Tyrannosaur, UNICEF, UNICEF UK

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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