Seemingly able to play everything from stiff upper lip English gentleman to romantic leading man to light comedian with a twinkle in his eye, Colin Firth has seemingly become one of Britain’s most dependable actors. Moving easily between TV Miniseries and film, Firth has been one very busy actor for the last 30 years.
Born in Grayschott, Hampshire, England in 1960, he spent a couple of his youngest years in Nigeria, where his grandparents were Methodist missionaries. He started acting in school, and was discovered playing Hamlet in acting school. His first professional acting was Bennett in “Another Country” on stage and he was subsequently cast in the film version in 1984, albeit in a different role.
After that, he worked steadily in character parts, in film and on TV. As a matter of fact, his first real fame came from playing “Mr. Darcy” in the 1995 TV miniseries of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”. He actually spoofed that role a couple of times, most notably playing Mr. Darcy in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” (2001).
“Pride and Prejudice” increased his visibility so much that he worked very steadily, usually doing two or three films a year in a variety of genres, such as Romance in “Circle of Friends” (1995), Fantasy in “Nanny McPhee” (2005), and even Musicals in “Mamma Mia!” (2008).
2009 and 2010 were two very good years for Firth. In 2009, he starred in ‘A Single Man”, winning several major awards and an Academy Award nomination as Best Actor. 2010 was even better as he starred as King George VI in “The King’s Speech”, a worldwide smash. He again won several awards including the Academy Award for Best Actor.
He has continued to do great work since in a variety of films such as “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (2011), “The Railway Man” (2013), and “Magic in the Moonlight” (2014). Here are 14 Colin Firth films worth your time.
12. Another Country (1984)
Directed by Marek Kanievska and written by Julian Mitchell. This film stars Rupert Everett and Colin Firth as students in an English private school in the 30’s, each with a personality trait that makes them unsuitable at the time. Guy Bennett (Everett) is openly gay and Tommy Judd (Firth) is a Marxist. They both feel repressed at the school and their lives take different paths, Bennett becomes a spy for the Soviet Union, and Judd fights and dies in the Spanish Civil War.
This was Colin’s first movie and he did a splendid job. He had performed in the play version of this material before, and so was comfortable making the film. As Judd the Marxist, Colin has some very striking speeches on the nature of repression and the class structure in Great Britain. He brings warmth and depth to a role that could just be a talking head in lesser hands.
11. A Month in the Country (1987)
Directed by Pat O’ Conner, and based on a novel by J. L. Carr, adapted by Simon Gray, the film stars Colin Firth as Tom Birkin who has been chosen by bequest to restore a mural in the local church. The Victor opposes this, as he does not believe in the town superstitions. Birkin gets taken under the wing of a family from another church and has Sunday dinners with them. With their assistance he begins preaching in the local non-conformist church.
Colin does a very good job in this film. At the beginning of the film, his character fought in World War I and is shell shocked, which he shows as a mild stammer and tics. As he continues in the role, he gains confidence and plays with a growing conviction to the end where his character is preaching. The film was thought lost for many years until a print was found at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was released on DVD.
10. Apartment Zero (1988)
Produced, directed and written by Martin Donovan, this thriller with black comic overtones starts Colin as Adrian Le Duc who owns a revival movie theater, and lives in a run-down apartment in Argentina. He has emotional issues and paranoia. His mother is in a nursing home. Adrian is devoted to her and spends time with her, or in the theater watching old Hollywood films. Needing money, he rents out the second room to American Jack Carney. They strike up a friendship, but Jack is not what he seems.
This film really gave Colin a chance to flex his acting muscles, as he played a character that had mental problems and hinted at being a homosexual. At the beginning of the film he has a hunted expression and is visibly nervous and paranoid, but still manages to function. When he invites Jack to rent the room, he visibly brightens and seems more cheerful in his self-appointed duties of cooking and laundry for Jack.
When he finds Jack’s secret, he reverts to his former portrayal and adds a level of desperation to it. At the end of the film, after all he has been through, his demeanor is completely changed. He seems quieter, but also more stoic, as if on medication. All in all, a very commendable performance.
9. Valmont (1989)
Directed by Milos Forman, Screenplay by Jean-Claude Carriere, Based on the 1782 French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderos de Laclos, this film stars Colin Firth as Valmont, a former lover of the Marquis de Merteuil, who makes a bet with him that he cannot seduce a newly married woman. While completing his task, he falls in love with the bride and wins the bet, but dies in a duel before he can collect.
This is much lighter in tone than the American version, Dangerous Liaisons, and is Colin’s first costume film. Unlike the American film, it is played much more as a romp and Colin gets right into the spirit of it, playing a playboy who actually falls in love, he is by turns witty, thoughtful, and sexy. His scenes with Annette Benning show two intelligent actors playing their scenes with a shared love for the material.
8. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
The film details the relationship between Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) and William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) as he is writing “Romeo and Juliet” and why it caused a scandal.
Colin Firth plays Lord Wessex, an impoverished nobleman that Viola is forced to marry for political reasons. He knows that Viola is having an affair but due to mistaken identity believes Shakespeare is Christopher Marlow and thinks it is good that he is dead. His role is the more dramatic one in the film and he handles it with aplomb.
7. The English Patient (1996)
In World War II Italy, a burnt victim tells the story of his attempt to save the woman he was having an affair and how it lead to his downfall.
In an all-star cast, Colin Firth plays Geoffrey Clifton, who joins the Royal Geographic Society Archeological and survey mission with his wife Katherine. Colin is stuck with a thankless role of the husband whose wife is having an affair with the handsome head of the expedition. He plays it well with a slow burning intensity which reaches a head when he crashes his plane into the Count’s tent, and is killed in the process. This is an excellent film with an epic feel.