“This is hilarious, I’ve got an Oscar!” Olivia Colman said incredulously when accepting the Academy Award for Best Actress. “This will never happen again!”
Critics were unanimously delighted by Colman’s filthy, charming, pathetic, girlish, monstrous, exuberant and thrillingly silly performance as Queen Anne in the absurd and biting court drama The Favourite, but she was still something of an unlikely win. This was her first nomination, and in a particularly competitive category. Colman’s career has mostly taken place on British TV: from Andrex voiceovers and the infamous “Bev? Kev!” AA adverts to brilliant, crackling comedy roles in The Office, Peep Show, Green Wing, Fleabag and Flowers to layered leading roles in water cooler shows such as Broadchurch and The Night Manager (and, soon, The Crown). Her most memorable film roles include an abuse victim in the bleak Tyrannosaur, the only female (and cheerfully foul-mouthed) police officer in Hot Fuzz, and Carol Thatcher in The Iron Lady.
Lauded by critics and colleagues alike, Colman has slowly but surely gained a reputation as an exceptionally instinctive actor: wary of method acting, over-thinking roles and even memorising lines for auditions, she aims for a spontaneous style that doesn’t feel performed. There is an ordinariness to all her characters – in a snort, a sigh, an awkward grimace or a playful raised eyebrow – often chafing against a violent absurdity or piercing vulnerability. She embraces the discomfiting extremes of ugliness, cruelty, loneliness and grief, and has a knack for collapsing comedy and tragedy into a single role, scene or expression. Her thoroughly deserved win has been received with genuine joy. In a year of disappointments, it’s a moment to be treasured.
This article appears in the 27 Feb 2019 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit broke politics