In the last ten years, actress Olivia Colman has shot up from a recognizable and talented British actress to a still very talented household name. Her roles in wildly successful productions like Broadchurch, Fleabag, and The Favourite have left her with 67 award wins and a further 47 nominations. She never shies away from unflattering or dark parts, but she is equally capable of charm and hilarity. Though she’s been acting for ages, her career has no where to go but up. Here are her ten best roles…so far.
Of course, her first season playing Queen Elizabeth II on The Crown is coming out this fall, so we’ll see where on this list it falls.
10 PC Doris Thatcher — Hot Fuzz (2007)
Police Constable Doris Thatcher is the only female police officer in the Sanford Police Service. She frequently makes sexual innuendos, which can be interpreted as an easy joke about her promiscuity or an attempt to fit in with the rest of the police boys club. She is a hero in the end.
Hot Fuzz is one of Olivia Colman’s earlier roles. Big fans of Colman love to return to this movie as Colman’s “roots,” and celebrate that the woman who played the silly and sole female police officer in this movie went on to be lauded with an Oscar, two Golden Globes, and three BAFTAs, among others.
9 Hotel Manager — The Lobster (2015)
In a dystopian future, single people are put into a hotel and have to fall in love 45 days or be turned into an animal. If they hunt single people (“loners”) they can have time added to their stay.
This absurdist dystopian dark comedy from Yorgos Lanthimos was the first time that Olivia Colman worked with the director. She played the Hotel Manager, who gave the guests instructions and delivered advice that seems absurd on its face but is wise within the world of the movie. The whole movie is an acquired taste, but if you focus on Colman’s performance you’ll be rewarded with an amazing performance.
8 Hannah — Tyrannosaur (2011)
In this brutal drama directed and written by Paddy Considine, Olivia Colman plays Hannah, a Christian charity shop worker. She encounters Joseph, a man who is followed by destruction and turmoil at every turn. As his life spirals downward, Hannah attempts to help him. But it turns out she’s hiding a secret of her own.
Colman’s performance as Hannah honestly portrays the ways an abuse survivor can be alternately broken and furious, then in the next breath be kind and compassionate. She seems to be the only sympathetic moral compass in the movie, so when she takes her life into her own hands, her fate feels cruel and unfair.
7 Sally Owen — Twenty Twelve (2011-2012)
In this serial comedy, Olivia Colman plays Sally Owen, a member of the team who must organize the 2012 Olympics in London. Of course, they face many challenges along the way, including an equestrian controversy, a boycott, and cultural issues. The comedy is deadpan, more satire than joking.
Colman is hilarious in her role as the P.A. to Ian Fletcher, the head of the team who she secretly carries a (dare we say, Olympic-sized) torch for. Naturally, Colman steals every scene she’s in. Even though this show has gone largely unnoticed in the US, it was very popular in the UK. It’s no wonder she was nominated for a BAFTA for her part.
6 Sue Brown — Accused (2010-2012)
In Accused, an anthology crime drama created by Jimmy McGovern, 10 lives hang in the balance. Each episode follows a different character who awaits trial for a crime they were accused of. A few characters show up more than once, but the stories are largely unrelated.
Olivia Colman shows up in only one episode, but she was so powerful in it that she won a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress for her part. She plays Sue Brown, who runs a hair salon on her friend Mo Murray. Sue’s son Sean is shot on behalf of a gang, which breaks her heart. The crime is made the more horrible when she learns who committed it, and who has been covering it up.
5 Hope Slaughter — Them That Follow (2019)
This visceral character-study set deep in Appalachia explores the people who believe in handling deadly snakes that prove their devotion to God—and their worthiness as a follower. On the day of her wedding, a young woman reveals that she has a secret that could tear the community apart.
The movie received middling reviews, but everyone agrees that it was the performances from the cast, especially Olivia Colman as Hope, that saved it. She plays a woman who is deeply religious in a sect of Christianity that is generally derided, but she side-steps the general accusations of “crazy” to portray a deeply empathetic and loving woman.
4 Angela Burr — The Night Manager (2016-)
This British TV show is based on a John le Carré novel of the same name. The first season was directed by Susanne Bier; a second season is forthcoming. Alongside Olivia Colman stars Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, David Harewood, Tom Hollander, and Elizabeth Debicki. It’s suspenseful, intelligent, and an impressive addition to the canon of spy movies and shows.
Colman plays Angela Burr, an intelligence operative who recruits soldier-turned-hotel-night-manager Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) to infiltrate White Hall and Washington D.C. She is intelligent and tenacious as she orchestrates a mission to take down an arms dealer (Hugh Laurie). She was nominated for an Emmy and won a Golden Globe for her performance.
3 DS Ellie Miller — Broadchurch (2013-2017)
Olivia Colman’s second time around playing a police officer is a much more serious and dramatic portrayal. The crime drama, which focused on one case per season (as opposed to the one case per episode procedurals), is about as good as drama gets. She plays opposite David Tennant, whom at first she resents for coming in and stealing the promotion that was rightfully hers, and eventually comes to respect and befriend.
Colman as Ellie Miller is so loyal, committed, and welcoming that it’s easy to want to be her friend. Though Tennant’s Alec Hardy is technically the boss who leads the case, it’s Colman’s performance as DS Miller that sets the standard for the show.
2 Godmother — Fleabag (2016-2019)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s two series of Fleabag, which follow the life of a sex-addicted woman coming to terms with two recent tragedies, is a dark, hilarious, and ultimately wonderfully redemptive.
Olivia Colman’s role in it is as the nasty Godmother, who inserts her selves into the lives of Fleabag, her sister Claire, and Dad after their mother dies. She is catty and manipulative and selfish—honestly, the worst. But Colman’s performance is a delight, and anytime she’s on screen you can’t tear your eyes away. It’s not ranked as one of her “known for” performances on IMDb yet, but we expect it to float to the top soon.
1 Queen Anne — The Favourite (2018)
Olivia Colman plays the English Queen Anne, a woman whose health has grown frail and is crumbling under the pressure of her role and her life. After 18 miscarriages and the death of her husband, she has become slightly unbalanced and incapable, which is a perfect moment for the conniving Lady Sarah to rule in her stead.
For many, this is Olivia Colman’s best performance (so far). It’s the one that’s earned her the most award nominations and her only Oscar (for now). She’s brilliant in it—alternately repulsive and sympathetic, someone you want to hug and someone you want to shake.