As Mr. Darcy in the acclaimed 1995 television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Colin Firth induced record increases in estrogen levels on both sides of the Atlantic. Imbuing his role as one of literature's most obstinate lovers with surly, understated charisma, Firth caused many a viewer to wonder where he had been for so long, even though he had in fact been appearing in television and film for years.
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The son of two university lecturers, Firth was born in England's Hampshire county on September 10, 1960. Part of his early childhood was spent in Nigeria with missionary grandparents, but he returned for schooling in his native country and eventually enrolled in the Drama Centre in Chalk Farm. While playing Hamlet in a school production during his final term, the actor was discovered, and he went on to make his London stage debut in the West End production of Julian Mitchell's Another Country. Starring opposite Rupert Everett, Firth played Tommy Judd, a character based on spy-scandal figurehead Donald Maclean (Everett played Guy Bennett, based on real-life spy Guy Burgess). He went on to reprise his role for the play's 1984 film version, again playing opposite Everett.
Despite such an auspicious beginning to his career, Firth spent the rest of the decade and half of the next working in relative obscurity; he starred in a number of television productions -- including the highly acclaimed 1993 Hostages -- and worked steadily in film. Some of his more notable work included A Month in the Country, in which he played a World War I veteran opposite Kenneth Branagh and Natasha Richardson, and Valmont, Milos Forman's 1989 adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, in which Firth starred in the title role. The film also provided him with an introduction to co-star Meg Tilly, with whom he had a son.
However, it was not until he again donned breeches and a waistcoat that Firth started to emerge from the shadows of BBC programming. With his portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the popular TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Firth was propelled into the media spotlight, touted in a number of articles as the latest in the long line of thinking women's crumpets; he was further rewarded for his work with a BAFTA award. The same year, he appeared as an amorous cad in the similarly popular Circle of Friends and went on the next year to appear as Kristin Scott Thomas' cuckolded husband in The English Patient. Firth garnered praise for his role in the film, which went on to win international acclaim and Academy Awards.
After a turn as a morally ambiguous man who gets involved with both Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer in A Thousand Acres, Firth took a comically sinister turn as Gwyneth Paltrow's intended husband in the 1998 Shakespeare in Love. The following year, he starred in two very different movies: My Life So Far, a tale of family dysfunction in the Scottish Highlands, and Fever Pitch, initially released in the U.K. in 1997, in which Firth played a rabid English football fan forced to choose between his love of the sport and the woman in his life.
Headlining the low-key comedy My Life So Far the following year, Firth's performance as the father of a family living in a post World War I British estate was only one of five roles that the busy actor would essay that particular year (including that of William Shakespeare in Blackadder Back and Forth). His finale of the year -- Donovan Quick -- offered a memorable updating of the legend of Don Quixote with Firth himself in the titular role. Firth's supporting role in the 2001 comedy Bridget Jones's Diary preceded a more weighty performance in the chilling drama Conspiracy, with the former earning him a BAFTA nomination and the latter an Emmy nod. Comic performances in Londinium (2001) and The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) found Firth continuing to maintain his reputation as one of England's most talented comic exports, and if his lead in 2003's Hope Springs failed to capitalize on his recent string of success, his role as teen starlet Amanda Bynes' celluloid father in What a Girl Wants (2003) at least endeared him to a new generation of moviegoers before the adult-oriented drama Girl With a Pearl Earring hit theaters later that same year. After rounding out the busy year with a return to romantic comedy in Love Actually, Firth kicked off 2004 with a turn as a haunted widower in Trauma while preparing to return to familiar territory in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.
Firth continued to work steadily in projects ranging from the family friendly Nanny McPhee with Emma Thompson to the hit musical Mama Mia, playing one of the three men who might have fathered Meryl Streep's daughter. But it was his leading role in fashion designer Tom Ford's directorial debut, A Single Man, that garnered him awards attention like he had never received previously. For his work as a gay professor grieving the death of his lover, Firth scored nominations from the Screen Actors Guild, the Academy, and the Independent Spirit Awards.
After appearing in the 2009 adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Firth would achieve further accolades for his role as the stuttering King George VI in director Tom Hooper's breathtaking historical drama The King's Speech (2010). In addition to taking home the Academy Award for Best Actor, Firth also took home awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the L.A. Film Critics Association, and the Screen Actors Guild. 2011 was no less exciting a year for the actor, who co-starred with Gary Oldman in Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson's award winning spy thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, an adaptation of John Le Carré's novel about an ex-British agent who comes out of retirement in hopes of solving a dangerous case. Firth is slated to star in Bridget Jone's Baby, Gambit, and The Railway Man in 2013. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi