Subject: Colin Firth, 50-year old English actor
Date of Assessment: March 30, 2011
Positive Buzzwords: Underrated, mainstream
Negative Buzzwords: Stiff, posh, bore
The Case: The good news, as accurately declared by Colin Firth in his recent (Best Actor) Oscar acceptance speech, is that his career really has just peaked. The bad news, however, is that in the event of a career peak, a downward slide might be inevitable. In the best case scenario, it is entirely possible Firth could parlay his Oscar win into more exposure for the sorts of roles that he’s played before and for which he hasn’t yet received proper recognition.
Most of us know Firth as the quintessential Englishman and for good reason. He’s quite notorious for his straight-out-of-the-novel portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the six-episode miniseries Pride and Prejudice, in which he performed the classic Regency version of a one-man wet t-shirt contest. Indeed, there’s something strange about Firth and shirts; for those unfamiliar with his entire CV, he appears to have played a huge range of stuffed-shirt characters who are primarily privileged, upper-class Englishmen. Love Actually, Shakespeare in Love, and The English Patient all immediately spring to mind. He’s also largely known for a seemingly endless stream of romcom roles but has remained much less recognized for those unbelievably convincing darker roles in movies such as Fever Pitch, Where the Truth Lies, Trauma, and Valmont (here, Firth played the Malkvoch-in-Dangerous Liasons-type character, as both films were based on the novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos). He’s also been much grittier than his reputation would lead you to believe in The Last Legion and (to great effect) has even dropped his drawers in various movies including The Advocate. Beyond the posterior, women also love the hell out of that softly intense gaze, which works so well in those romcoms and period pieces.
That’s not all, folks. Firth has given his share of tearful performances (When Did You Last See Your Father?; The King’s Speech) and has adeptly mixed in some lighter fare (What a Girl Wants; Love Actually; The Importance of Being Earnest). Despite his reputation as a cinematic ladies’ man, Firth has also portrayed six gay characters (Where the Truth Lies; A Single Man; Mamma Mia; Apartment Zero; Relative Values; and the stage version of Another Country). Also, despite his posh manner of speaking in many movies, Firth has pulled off three characters who stammer in vastly different manners (The King’s Speech; A Month in the Country; and a play called Three Days of Rain). Not to mention Main Street, where Firth oozed a charming Southern drawl as a prototypical oilman. Other crowd favorites include Another Country; Nineteen Nineteen; Femme Fatale; A Thousand Acres; and The Secret Laughter of Women.
Naturally, Firth has taken a few missteps with stuff like A Christmas Carol and The Accidental Husband, and he followed up his acclaimed role in Girl With a Pearl Earring by playing a harried, hapless father in the first Nanny McPhee movie. Still, the man is just so likable (as well as lickable) and comes off as remarkably self-effacing in interviews such as when spoke with Newsweek about the absurdity of acting:
Actually, you know, it is quite extraordinary because life on a film set is inherently infantile. Everything else is taken away to the point where we are helpless. You are picked up at a certain time of day. You are driven to a place not of your choice. You are then given clothes to put on. And then someone does your hair and your face, and again according to someone else’s schedule. You are brought your breakfast. Then you are taken to a place where you do your job and you are told where to stand, where to look, and here are the words you are going to say, and they’re not yours. And so there is very little that you have in your control, except what happens when you close the bathroom door. It is preposterous. It makes no sense whatsoever, unless it’s wonderful. You are always treading that line.
Isn’t Firth’s attitude much more refreshing than witnessing steeple-fingered talk of the craft? And it’s even more impressive that Firth manages to deliver some film-saving performances in the face of such ridiculousness. With a different leading man, A Single Man might have been remembered merely as an aesthetic tribute to the lifestyle of director Tom Ford, who took the movie quite far away from its roots as a Christopher Isherwood novella. Instead, the movie was grounded and much more believable thanks to Firth’s amazingly nuanced performance as a grieving man who suddenly loses his gay lover and has been rejected by the man’s family. Firth’s reaction to this dual figurative stomach punch truly resonated with the audience and summarily dismissed all of the beautiful trappings of the film set. Somehow, that movie was all about Colin Firth yet remained respectful of the subject matter at hand.
Likewise with the first Bridget Jones movie, wherein Renée Zellweger inexplicably received an Oscar nomination for making a joke about wiping Saddam Hussein’s arse while shagging Hugh Grant’s floppy mop. This particular movie was also anchored by Firth’s older version of Mr. Darcy. Some might label this Mark Darcy a parody of the Pride and Prejudice character, for it was conceived by Bridget author Helen Fielding in the novel, which infamously gave a more mainstream version of the Austen classic and in which the Bridget character had a terrible crush on the actor Colin Firth. It was forecast in the stars that Firth would play this Mr. Darcy as well, and he carried the role off with as much dignity as humanly possible in the face of a thousand romcom tropes. And incidentally, he caused millions of women to go weak in the knees with his ending line, “Oh yes, they fucking do,” before kissing Bridget into oblivion.
Prognosis: Firth’s never had a problem with finding a demand for his acting services, and he shall remain eminently employable as always in spite of his newfound Academy Award. He’s currently got four films in various stages of production, including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with the simply bloody good Gary Oldman. Outside of acting, some across-the-pond buzz points towards a possible knighthood, which would certainly be prestigious honor for any actor. However, the royal stamp of approval hasn’t exactly helped Sean Connery or Helen Mirren avoid clunkers, so I suspect that Firth will continue to seek quality scripts regardless of whether or not this happens. Just for fun, let’s close by revisiting his “I have a feeling my career just’s peaked” Oscar speech and then consider whether or not he’s correct in this assumption.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.