In Spotlight: From Fleabag to The Favourite - Olivia Colman’s best TV and film roles

11 of the Academy Award-winning British actress's best films and TV shows.

By Sophia Moir Published: 26 April 2019 - 5.04pm
Twentieth Century Fox

In a few short years, Olivia Colman has gone from a familiar face on British TV to international film star and bona fide national treasure. 

The 45-year-old British actress, born in Norwich to a nurse mother and chartered surveyor father, took Hollywood by storm when she scooped the Best Actress Oscar earlier this year.

Aside from her Academy Award win for her performance as Queen Anne in The Favourite, the actress has received critical acclaim for roles in Fleabag, Broadchurch and The Lobster.

The Favourite is available on the BT TV Store but if you want to whet your appetite before watching the Yorgos Lanthimos-directed comedy, here’s our pick of Colman's best TV and film roles to date.

The Favourite

Olivia Colman as Queen Anne in The Favourite

In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne (Colman) occupies the throne but her close friend, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) effectively governs the country. When a new servant, Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.

Colman nabbed the first Academy Award nomination of her 20-year career for playing Queen Anne in the film. She then beat actresses including Glenn Close and Lady Gaga to the Best Actress Oscar.

Her emotional and acceptance speech at the prestigious film awards soon went viral, with some critics saying she “made Oscars history”.


Olivia Colman as Godmother in Fleabag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s critically-acclaimed dark comedy, adapted from her award-winning play about a woman trying to cope with life after a personal tragedy, recently came to an end after a fantastic two seasons.

The BBC Three show starred Olivia Colman as the evil Godmother, aka the stepmother of Waller-Bridge’s eponymous lead.

Waller-Bridge recently revealed she wrote the passive-aggressive, severely unlikely character specifically for Colman, after Colman told Waller-Bridge she’d “love to play a real b*tch”.

Sian Clifford, who plays Fleabag’s sister Claire, told“There was no question for Olivia; she wanted to do great work.

“Everyone’s going crazy now saying this Oscar winner is in this BBC comedy, but it’s like she wants to go where the work is juicy and nobody has written her a part like Godmother.”

Les Miserables

Olivia Colman as Madame Thénardier  in Les Miserables

Against the backdrop of France at a time of civil unrest, the ambitious 2018 BBC adaptation of Victor Hugo's epic Les Miserables tells the story of Jean Valjean, a former convict unable to escape the shadow of his past life.

His future is threatened by his nemesis, the chilling police officer and former prison guard Javert, who is determined to bring him to justice.

Colman plays embittered, devious innkeeper Madame Thénardier – the part played by Helena Bonham Carter in the movie version of the long-running stage musical. Colman described the character as “deeply unpleasant in every way”.

> Les Miserables is available to buy as a box set on BT TV now

Murder on the Orient Express

Olivia Colman and Judi Dench in Murder on the Orient Express

Based on Agatha Christie's classic 1934 novel, this stylish film sees Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) try to solve a murder mystery on a train, where everyone's a suspect.

Colman appeared alongside a stellar ensemble cast including Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe and Penélope Cruz.

She played Hildegarde Schmidt, who works for the Princess Dragomiroff as a lady's maid. Her character is polite, intelligent, but quiet - discreet to the point of making you wonder whether she has something to hide...

> Murder on the Orient Express is available to buy on BT TV now


Olivia Colman as DS Ellie Miller in ITV's Broadchurch

This award-winning crime drama revolves around the murder of a boy in a small coastal town and the subsequent media frenzy which threatens to tear the community apart.

Colman played DS Ellie Miller, a CID officer at the fictional Broadchurch Police Station.

The actress was Broadchurch creator and writer Chris Chibnall’s first choice for the role, and she didn’t need an audition. She later won a Bafta and Royal Television Society award for her performance.

The Night Manager

Olivia Colman as Angela Burr in The Night Manager

The night manager of a Cairo hotel is recruited to infiltrate an arms dealer's inner circle in this critically-acclaimed TV adaptation of the classic John le Carré novel.

Colman played no-nonsense MI6 intelligence officer Angela Burr (the role was adapted from a male character in Le Carre's novel).

She won a Golden Globe award for her portrayal of Burr, alongside Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston who also scooped awards.

The Lobster

Olivia Colman at the red carpet for The Lobster

In a dystopian near future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to 'The Hotel' where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in 45 days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into 'The Woods'.

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Colman played the stern hotel manager, with The Guardian praising her “wonderful” performance in the role and The Observer saying that she “raises the biggest laughs” while “delivering dystopian lunacy”.

> The Lobster is available to buy or rent on BT TV now

The Iron Lady

Olivia Colman as Carol Thatcher in The Iron Lady

The Iron Lady is the extraordinary, Oscar-winning biopic about Margaret Thatcher, with Meryl Streep in the title role.

Colman physically transformed to play Carol Thatcher, the daughter of the PM, including wearing a prosthetic nose and distressed blonde wig.

> The Iron Lady is available to buy or rent on BT TV now


Olivia Colman in Paddy Considine's film, Tyrannosaur

Joseph, a man plagued by violence and a rage that is driving him to self-destruction, earns a chance of redemption that appears in the form of Hannah, a Christian charity shop worker, in this lauded 2011 film written and directed by Paddy Considine.

In the film Colman played Hannah, the charity shop worker enduring hidden domestic violence. The role earned her a best actress win at the British Independent Film Awards.

Refinery29 writes: “It was quite a surprise to see Peep Show's witty, smart-mouthed Colman step up to this particular plate, but you won't forget her award-winning performance.”

Peep Show

Olivia Colman as Sophie in Channel 4's Peep Show

Originally broadcast on Channel 4 from 2003 to 2015, Peep Show follows the lives of two 20-something roommates: Mark (David Mitchell), and Jez (Robert Webb).

Mark and Jez have nothing in common - except for the fact that their lives are anything but normal. Mayhem ensues as the pair strive to cope with day-to-day life.

Colman played Mark's on-and-off love interest Sophie in the British comedy with Bustle writing that the “complex, flawed character allowed the actor to show the full potential of her acting chops early in her career”.

Green Wing

Olivia Colman in Channel 4 comedy Green Wing

Green Wing is a British hospital-based sitcom than ran from 2004-2006 on Channel 4 and starred Tamsin Greig, Stephen Mangan and Julian Rhind-Tutt.

Colman played Harriet Schulenburg, an overworked mother of four trapped in an unhappy marriage who works in the hospital’s HR department. wrote that while Colman wasn’t one of the show’s main stars, she made Harriet “a valuable part of its weird tapestry.”

If you haven’t yet watched The Favourite, you can see the trailer here: