She can do no wrong: BAFTA-winning actress Olivia Colman instantly elevates every one of her projects to ‘must watch’ status. With the complete series of the very-bonkers but very touching Flowers available now on demand, we look back at ten times Olivia Colman was indisputably the best thing on telly.
As the matriarch of the Flowers family – a collection of crackpot individuals who would have been rejected as Wes Anderson characters for being ‘too quirky’ – Colman brought a quiet dignity to a woman who was nonetheless slowly unravelling inside. With her husband an increasingly reclusive figure and her kids too self-absorbed to notice her, Ma Flowers couldn’t be blamed for lusting after other men – but her cringeworthy flirtation with the neighbouring builders makes the toes curl. For a show that never settles on comedy or drama, Colman walks the line with perfect balance.
Much like the mustard that bears her name, Colman is best used sparingly. As the stepmother to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s titular loafer, Colman is a picture of composed malcontent: there’s so much simmering beneath her smile. Even though she only appears briefly in four episodes, she’s perfectly grotesque creation, which – no offence to writer Waller-Bridge – was likely not on paper: it’s all down to Colman. The awkwardness with which she discusses sex with Fleabag is exquisite; other actors should watch and learn how to spin a mere cameo into televisual gold.
The Night Manager
Although she got her start in comedy roles, Olivia Colman has proven herself to be an esteemed and talented dramatic actress. As hard-nosed intelligence operative Angela Burr, Colman gives the performance of her live as she entwines star Tom Hiddleston’s humble hotel manager into the deadly world of espionage. If you were thinking a role in a John Le Carrédrama might be a bit of a stretch for Colman, you’d be wrong: she’s terrific as a woman who has to keep her calm at all costs. In fact, she was nominated for an Emmy for her performance.
It’s impossible to discuss Olivia Colman’s contribution to ITV murder mystery Broadchurch without divulging a few key details, so avert your eyes if you’ve yet to become acquainted with its seaside charms. Colman plays Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller, who along with David Tennant’s fellow officer Hardy, investigates the murder of a young boy in the fictional town of the title. Her flair for intense emotional acting was brought to the fore, however, upon the reveal that the murderer was her husband all along: Colman absolutely nails two vital scenes, first when she’s informed of the killer, and second when she finally confronts him. Watch this woman in action and tell us she didn’t earn that Best Actress Bafta.
As Sophie, object of Mark Corrigan’s affection, Colman ran the full spectrum: from out-of-reach office crush to reluctant to girlfriend to spurned wife to bitter ex to passive aggressive mother to his child. Sophie once was everything normal that Mark needed in his life, but thanks to a jilting at the altar – and office halfwit Jeff leading her astray – she eventually grew to hate Mark’s cowardly guts. Having given birth to Mark’s baby and spitefully named it ‘Ian’, Sophie hit the bottle; she was last seen being shamefully buried in a ball-pit in a soft play centre. R.I.B. Sophie.
If you thought history was boring, history after a few bottles of wine and a couple of Aperol Spritzes makes it much more tolerable. That’s the concept of this ace Comedy Central show, which sees comedians neck as much booze as possible before retelling famous stories of history, acted out by famous actors. As a sozzled Josie Long narrated the story of infamous American quack Dr Harvey Crippen, Olivia Colman played his lover Ethel Le Neve, who had to disguise herself as a boy when the pair went on the run. Something about her disarming smile and toothy grin makes her the perfect candidate for a murderer’s mistress.
Nestling in between the giant egos tasked with bringing order to the chaos that was the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was Olivia Colman’s wallflower Sally Owen, personal assistant to Hugh Bonneville’s Head of Deliverance and most downtrodden doormat in the office. Most unhelpful is the fact that the Deliverance teams are all idiots, but particularly problematic is the fact that Sally is in love with her boss, and Olivia Colman plays it sweet and subtle, her ‘deer in the headlights’ act falling just the right side of simpering. We never find out if her feelings are reciprocated, but it doesn’t matter – her work is done and her mission is completed. It’s as Ian says: “She’s basically running the Olympics”.
Any British comedic actor worth his or her salt between 2004-2006 appeared in some capacity in Green Wing, the madcap medical comedy that felt like it had overdosed on methadone. Colman played HR staffer Harriet, who along with her colleagues, never really seemed to do much work. An overworked mother of four who is stuck in a romantic rut with her long-suffering husband, Harriet eventually goes all in on an affair with Paterson Jospeh’s doctor Lyndon, giggling as he man-handles her (“I nearly weed!”). Most exciting, however, is the fact that this dalliance saw Peep Show titans Sophie and Johnson come together in an unholy alliance. What would Mark say?
Look Around You
Robert Popper’s Tomorrow’s World parody was a goldmine for early 00s comedy, and Colman played one of the pseudo-science show’s hosts, Pam Bachelor. Permanently decked out in a most unflattering BHS jump-suit and with bouffant hair that’s never seen a straightener, Pam was one of four hosts who introduced amazing new inventions to the general public, like the Memory Helmet (which allows users to memorise large lists instantly, albeit with the side effect of lowering their voice several octaves) and the Petticoat 5, the computer for women (“You can see here, the space bar is an emery board”). Shows don’t come much sillier and Colman was always game for a laugh.
In one of those ‘Oh, I didn’t know she was in this’ cameo roles, Colman had a small part in The Office as Helena the reporter from Inside Paper, doomed to write up a puff piece on David Brent. Remaining professional to the last, she consistently rebuffed Brent’s efforts to annotate his own interview (“Put ‘David Brent is refreshingly laid back for a man with such responsibility’…”). Her highlight, however, is the excruciating wait she suffers between taking photos of Brent, who is wearing exactly the expression you’d expect from a man who’s just been told he’s been let go: “One more for safety,” she says, frantically waiting for the camera to reload or the sweet release of death, whichever comes first.