Academy Award nominee Colin Firth: life before typecasting

He's just picked up his second BAFTA and he’s in line for an Academy Award, but there was a time when Colin Firth played more than repressed poshos.
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He's just picked up his second BAFTA and he’s in line for an Academy Award, but there was a time when Colin Firth played more than repressed poshos.

He's just picked up his second BAFTA and he’s in line for an Academy Award, but there was a time when Colin Firth come play more than repressed poshos.

And so Colin Firth looks a shoo-in for the Best Actor Oscar at this year's Academy Awards. Of course, there were many who thought he might pick up the gong last year for A Single Man. And while they didn't trouble the awards committees, Firth's work in Genova, Where The Truth Lies, And When Did You Last See Your Father? and even those monstrous Bridget Jones movies has never been less than commendable.

But it is his stoic, all-stammering turn in The King's Speech that seems set to elevate Colin Andrew Firth to paragraph one of the A-list. Not that keeping calm and carrying on are the limits of Col's capabilities. Quite the opposite – early on in his career, Firth did a nice line in anal retentiveness.

Take 1988's Apartment Zero in which his Adrian LeDuc runs an art house cinema in Buenos Aires. Less a performance than an OCD case study, Firth is superb though never less than a little bit scary.

Hearing him say things like "Get yourself smartened up and we'll go to a brothel" will certainly surprise fans of his chocolate box movies.

And for all the people who bang on about how handsome he is, Apartment Zero is one of those films that shows Firth for what he really is - "the world's best-looking geography teacher" (Jon Fortgang).

Firth also has it in him to look comfortable outside of stately homes and cocktail parties. In Leslie Megahey's The Hour Of The Pig, for example, he spends a lot of his time up to his ankles in shit. As Richard Courtois, Firth plays a young lawyer called on to defend a pig accused of murder - this is medieval France where animals were put on trial more often than you'd imagine. A strange picture with a great sense of humour, The Hour Of The Pig again reveals Firth as something more than Stewart Granger Mk. 6.

And hearing him say things like "Get yourself smartened up and we'll go to a brothel" will certainly surprise fans of his chocolate box movies. Sadly, neither Apartment Zero nor The Hour Of The Pig are easy to come by. For more recent evidence of how interesting an actor Colin Firth can be, track down a copy of Conspiracy (2001), the awesome HBO film about formulating the Final Solution.

As Dr Wilhelm Stuckart, Firth initially seems like the voice of reason - the good Nazi that seems to crop up in every World War Two film. But then he starts to explain what it is he so detests about the Jews. To say this is a Colin Firth you haven't seen before would be a huge understatement. It's just a shame that, if the win for The King's Speech comes, so Colin Firth the interesting actor might disappear forever.

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