Before Olivia Colman took on the role of Queen Elizabeth II in season 3 of Netflix’s The Crown, she was dubbed a “national treasure” in the U.K. and became an Oscar winner for her role as Queen Anne in The Favourite. Her awe-struck acceptance speech was a highlight of the Oscars evening. Interestingly, she’s the only actress to have played both Queen Elizabeth II (The Crown) and the Queen Mother (2012’s Hyde Park on Hudson).
“I have always been a fan of the queen. I think as a human being she is marvelous and amazing. She is like a book and my job is to do justice to the part,” Colman told a group of reporters before The Crown premiered in November 2019. “The more I researched for this part, the more I started respecting her. She has gone through so much. It is really amazing.”
With a career that spans over 20 years, we decided to revisit her standout roles. From Fleabag to intense dramas like Broadchurch, it’s easy to see why she won over Britain—and now the world. If these 16 movie and TV roles aren’t enough for you, you can hear Colman narrating chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Colman’s collaboration with director Yorgos Lanthimos in The Favourite earned her an Oscar—but it wasn’t their first time working together. She also appeared in the twisted fairy tale The Lobster, about a society in which single people have one last chance to be paired up before they’re instantly transformed into animals and hunted. Cheery!
For seasons 3 and 4 of Netflix’s The Crown, Olivia Colman is playing Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch. Before the premiere, Colman joked with Entertainment Weekly about filling in Claire Foy’s shoes. “Everyone loves Claire Foy,” Colman said. “So I have got the worst job in the world at the moment.”As anyone who’s seen seasons 3 and 4 can attest, Colman embodied the role expertly.
Colman received internationally praise for her role as Queen Anne in 2018’s The Favourite. The film earned her an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA. Hilariously, she played a royal in frail health who shows little interest in governing early 18th century England.
Murder on the Orient Express
In the 2017 classic murder mystery Murder on the Orient Express, Colman plays Hildegarde Schmidt, the lady maid of Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench). Polite and quiet, audiences quickly suspect she’s got something to hide.
This is hands down one of our favorite Olivia Colman roles. In Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, she plays the godmother and best friend of Fleabag (Waller-Bridge) and Claire’s (Sian Clifford) dead mom, eventually becoming their stepmother despite their beyond rocky relationship.
The calm and friendly seaside town of Broadchurch is torn apart after the death of an 11-year-old boy brings unwanted media attention. In the 2013 series, Colman plays Ellie Miller, a police officer who investigates the murder alongside her partner, Alec Hardy (David Tennant). What she doesn’t realize is that the killer might actually be right under her nose.
In the 2019 television adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, Les Misérables, Colman played Madame Thénardier, the wife of innkeeper Monsieur Thénardier. She has a nasty tendency to mistreat Cosette, the main character in the series. Fun fact: in the film version, Colman’s The Crown co-star Helena Bonham Carter played Madame Thénardier instead.
This critically-acclaimed British film won several awards, including the BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a British writer, director, or producer. In it she plays Hannah, a Christian charity working who is being abused by her husband but refuses to come forward and seek help.
Considered one of the funniest cop comedies ever made, this flick finds Colman delighting the screen as Police Constable Doris Thatcher, the only female officer in the Sandford Police Service. If memes were as popular in 2007 as they are now, scenes from Hot Fuzz would be all over Twitter.
The Night Manager
Starring alongside Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, Colman plays British Intelligence agent Angela Burr in 2016’s The Night Manager. She’s on a mission to bring down Laurie’s billionaire character, Richard Roper, and uses Hiddleston’s Jonathan Pine, a hotel night manager, to do it. The limited series was only six episodes long, but they’re each worth your time.
Hyde Park on Hudson
In 2012’s Hyde Park on Hudson, Colman played the Queen Mother Elizabeth opposite Bill Murray’s President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The historical dramedy explores FDR’s historic 1939 visit from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
This one scored Colman a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress. We won’t give away too much, but she plays Sue Brown, a hard-working woman whose son is killed by a local gang, and who enlists her best friend to stand up against gun violence–only to later learn of said friend’s connection to the crime.
Colman stars as Deborah Flowers, a woman married to a man named Maurice (Julian Barratt) who she can’t divorce despite their separation. If dysfunctional families are your thing, this one’s for you.
From 2003 to 2015, Colman played Sophia Chapman on the British sitcom Peep Show. The series follows Mark and Jez, roommates who strive to cope with day-to-day life. Funnily enough, Colman first auditioned to be part of the Footlights Dramatics Club at Cambridge at age 19—and it’s there that she initially formed relationships with David Mitchell and Robert Webb, Peep Show stars.
The Iron Lady
Starring alongside Meryl Streep in 2011’s The Iron Lady, Colman played Carol Thatcher, the daughter of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Carol’s tasked with taking care of her mother as she battled dementia in her final days. In season 4 of The Crown, Colman’s character yet again interacts with Thatcher—this time, though, she’s the queen.
There’s a reason Colman is considered a national treasure in the U.K. Her performance as Sally Owen in the BBC “mockumentary” about the organization of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London earned her the BAFTA for Best Female Comedy Performance. It’s definitely one of the lighter picks on this list.