Colin Firth is one of the most quintessentially British actors to have ever graced the silver screen. Long before the likes of Cumberbatch, Hiddleston and Redmayne, Firth was one of the original British pin-up stars. Dapper, charming and a little emotionally repressed, Firth has often portrayed roles that play up to this stereotypical image of the English gentleman – to tumultuous acclaim. As well as being renowned for being the brooding romantic lead, he has also proved himself to be a thespian of the highest quality; his Best Actor Oscar win in 2010 for playing royalty in The King’s Speech is arguably his greatest achievement to date. To celebrate the release of his latest film, Kingsman: The Secret Service, I will be looking at five performances that could easily be heralded as the most defining moments of his career.
Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Though technically a TV Series, one cannot talk about Colin Firth without mentioning one of two Darcy’s. The first is this one – his iconic and brooding portrayal of Fitzwilliam Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Though the character of Mr Darcy has been replicated and reimagined countless times, Firth’s is one that stands head and shoulders above the pack. Interestingly, Firth turned down the part several times, but due to the producer’s persistence he eventually took the part. Playing against Jennifer Ehle’s tempestuous young heroine Lizzie Bennett, Firth’s Darcy displays all the hallmarks of the classic Austen protagonist; he is wealthy, aloof and highly reticent. But what makes Firth’s Darcy special – other than that scene (which I will get to in a moment) – is the way in which he is humanised to be more than just the proud, arrogant figure in this tense relationship. There is an emotional rawness to Firth’s performance, that is undercut with a veil of traditional English repression which helped add a new dimension to our understanding of the character. But of course, Firth’s Darcy is most remembered – and most cherished – for the scene that made him both a sex-symbol and a star. Often credited as one of the most unforgettable moments in television, the snippet in which Darcy emerges from the lake, with dampened curls and his white shirt clinging to his chest, has fluttered the hearts of millions and remains to follow Firth even now, twenty years later…
Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) & Bridget Jones’s Diary: The Edge of Reason (2004)
Darcy number two in Firth’s filmography is that of Helen Fielding’s charming love interest Mark Darcy in beloved british rom-com, Bridget Jones’s Diary. Mark is an eton-educated, top class human rights lawyer who, despite her many laughable faults, falls in love with main protagonist Bridget (Renée Zellweger) “just as she is”. Firth’s appointment in the role is actually quite ironic – given that Fielding named the character in honour of Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. As an amusing special feature on the DVD, there is even a mock interview, based on an excerpt of the book, where Zellweger interviews Firth as Bridget Jones. Though the character has the capacity to be quite repressed and stuck-up (as all Englishmen are in the movies) there is a quiet sweetness to him as he warms to Bridget’s zany mannerisms. There is also an undeniable sexiness to his character, particularly in the final sequence of the first film in which he kisses Bridget, prompting her to say “Hold on, nice boys don’t kiss like that”, to which Mark quite firmly responds “Oh yes, they fucking do”. The most memorable and humourous of moments in both films however, are Firth’s laughable fight sequences with Hugh Grant’s sneaky charmer, Daniel Cleaver. A comical blend of traditional public school manners and catty squabbling, the fights between the two men vying for Bridget’s affections are brilliantly played and wonderfully funny. Below is the clip of their first fight, dubbed to the sound of “It’s Raining Men” by Geri Halliwell. But if you’re feeling nostalgic and would also like a look back at their second fight – with music provided by The Darkness – then here.
Harry Bright in Mamma Mia (2008)
Alright, alright. I know this isn’t one of his best performances and his singing capability – along with various other cast members – is certainly questionable. But Mamma Mia provided Firth with a chance to do something slightly different. Though he can never really escape the image of the withheld, brooding Englishman, this is a role that shows Firth’s persistence to try and add a new variation to his perpetual trademark. In the film – which is by the way, one of the highest grossing musicals of all time – he plays Harry Bright; One of Donna (Meryl Streep)’s three past conquests that is awkwardly invited to her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried)’s wedding in an effort to determine which of them is her father. Yes the premise is a bit odd, and it’s all very, very cheesy. But there’s something genuinely endearing and interesting about Firth’s character – he was punk, he’s a banker and it is also later revealed that he’s a closet-homosexual. Though it’s not a film to everyone’s taste – and it’s critical reviews only went to prove the division of enjoyment felt in audiences – it is a fun and vibrant film. And yes, this scene in which Firth sings the ABBA classic ‘Our Last Summer‘ alongside Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard is a little cringey in places. But compared to the ‘vocal talents’ of Skarsgard and Brosnan, I think we can all agree that Firth did his best – and therefore was the best of the three.
“Bertie”/King George VI in The King’s Speech (2010)
This is the big one. Firth won the Academy Award for his portrayal of King George VI or “Bertie” in Tom Hooper’s historical biopic, The King’s Speech. Based on the true story of our current Monarch’s predecessor, Firth plays a character that must overcome some truly massive obstacles. The first, being his sudden assignation as King after his brother’s infamous abdication. And the second, being his debilitating stammer – which with the aid of Australian therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) he struggles to tackle in a time where speeches from higher circles were critical for public morale. Firth’s portrayal of ‘Bertie’ is incredibly sympathetic – with his dedication to the accuracy of the Royal’s speech impediment really coming through beautifully. He manages to keep the balance between making the character a likeable figure, whilst also portraying his frustrations, with shatteringly honest and poignant effect. The relationship between Bertie and Lionel is also a part of what makes the film so absorbing – and Firth’s chemistry with Rush really warms the cockles of one’s heart. Below is a clip of one of the earliest scenes in the film, where the two’s friendship – and Bertie’s therapy sessions – get off to a teetering start.
Harry “Galahad” Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
In his latest film, Firth plays the role of senior Kingsman Agent, Harry “Galahad” Hart. After escaping death, thanks to the sacrifice of a fellow agent, Hart makes it his mission to reciprocate the gesture, by watching over the agent’s son Eggsy (Taron Egerton) – a troubled youth, living on a typical English council estate. Hart, like all the classic movie mentors, sees potential in young Eggsy, and puts him forward to become the newest agent in The Kingsman Secret Service. However, there is much more to Firth’s character than the classy, knowledgable confidant. Firth – in an effort to perhaps shake away all the romantic and touchingly sympathetic roles that he has played in the past – finally takes his chance to become a badass… in a sophisticated sort of way, of course. The dapper refinement of Harry is something that Firth can play with ease, but give him a technological umbrella equipped with bullets and electrocuting gadgets, and it all gets infinitely more joyous to behold. In this scene from the film, Harry – quite put out by the gang’s thuggish and disrespectful interruption of his conversation with Eggsy – teaches a lesson in manners. Rather violently. The way Firth has prepared and executed the sequence is undoubtedly impressive, and there is something brilliantly amusing and stimulating about seeing him play such a role. Here’s hoping this is just the first of many performances in which Firth embraces such vigour.
Other notable performances include: Love Actually (2004), A Single Man (2009) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Words by Annie | @cumberbamf