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The Crown's Olivia Colman is No Stranger to TV

The future Oscar-winner cut her teeth in under-the-radar TV (and film) roles that are well worth a second look.
  • Olivia Colman stars as Queen Elizabeth II in Season 3 of The Crown. (Photo: Des Willie/Netflix)
    Olivia Colman stars as Queen Elizabeth II in Season 3 of The Crown. (Photo: Des Willie/Netflix)

    When most of us think of Olivia Colman, we think of her "breakout" performance as Queen Anne in The Favourite -- the one that led to one of the most charming (and apparently drunken) Academy Award acceptance speeches in recent memory.

    But what seemed to many like an overnight success story was, in fact, the culmination of a decade and a half of career-building (and scene-stealing) — mostly in the under-the-radar British TV shows and film. As we eagerly await her debut as Queen Elizabeth II in Season 3 of The Crown (dropping on Netflix this Sunday), it's time more Americans recognized Colman's sneakily prolific career, taking the opportunity to catch up on some great television and film in the process.

    To wit, below are ten Colman performances worth watching. (Note that we've set aside her award-magnet roles in The Favourite and Fleabag, since those were such recent and celebrated roles. That said, if you haven't watched either, you really should.)

    Peep Show (2003 - 2015)

    This British sitcom from comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb brought a first-person perspective to a story of two friends whose lives are incredibly different yet equally hapless in life and love. Colman played Sophie, the romantic interest of Mitchell's Mark Corrigan. The show was a diamond in the rough for American audiences when Netflix added the series to its streaming offerings.

    That Mitchell and Webb Look (2006 - 2008)



    Colman re-joined her Peep Show pals for this sketch series that is best remembered by some —present company very much included — for its delightfully nonsensical "Numberwang!" game show.

    Hot Fuzz (2007)


    Colman took a small role in Edgar Wright's parody of Bad Boys-style cop-movie bombast set in a sleepy British town. Playing the only woman on the police force, Colman's character was brassy, ribald and in incredibly poor taste at all times.

    Beautiful People (2008 - 2009)


    Colman played the matriarch in this little-seen gem of a family comedy based on the childhood life of fashion professional Simon Doonan. The humble suburban settings in Reading were the backdrop for an imperfect family — Colman's mum was a somewhat slurry barmaid —that nevertheless provided far more heart than is usually present in a Brit-com.

    Tyrannosaur (2011)


    Colman won awards from the Sundance Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival, and British Independent Film Awards for her performance as an abused woman in this film directed by her Hot Fuzz co-star Paddy Considine.

    The Iron Lady (2011)


    As Meryl Streep was busy invading the Falkland Island en route to her third Oscar, Colman was by her side in the quiet, put-upon role of Margaret Thatcher's daughter.

    Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)


    There were zero Oscars in store for Colman or anyone else as she played Queen Elizabeth (mum to Colman's current Queen Elizabeth II) on the royals' trip to America to meet Franklin Roosevelt (Bill Murray) in this one-time awards hopeful. One of the film's few small pleasures was observing Colman's continual distress at the prospect of dining on hot dogs.

    Broadchurch (2013 - 2017)


    This British police procedural may well be the quintessential example of the 2010s trend towards dark, unsettling, season-long police investigation dramas that cut too close to home for one detective, while their more eccentric partner acts outlandishly. Colman played the first detective in a powerful performance.

    The Night Manager (2016)


    After Broadchurch experienced some cross-over success as an import, Colman starred in an American co-production of The Night Manager, opposite the likes of Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Tom Hollander, and Elizabeth Debicki. Colman took home a Golden Globe for her role as an intelligence operative.

    The Lobster (2016)


    Before she got that Oscar-winning role in The Favourite, Colman and director Yorgos Lanthimos worked together on his 2016 release The Lobster, in which she played a bureaucrat in charge of a facility where single people must find their mates or risk getting turned into animals. If you haven't had the pleasure of experiencing Colman's hilarious performance, do yourself a favor and watch this as soon as you can. It should raise your xcitement to see her take on Queen Elizabeth II to a a fever pitch.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Olivia Colman, Netflix, Beautiful People, Broadchurch, The Crown, Fleabag, Peep Show (UK), That Mitchell and Webb Look