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This article was first published 13 years ago

From Mr Darcy to King George VI

Last updated on: February 21, 2011 15:18 IST

Image: A scene from Pride And Prejudice
Raja Sen in Mumbai

Back when he was offered the starring role in a now-iconic television adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice, Colin Firth first faced derision from his younger brother. "Darcy?" Jonathan Firth asked, stunned. "But isn't he supposed to be sexy?"

Yet while the younger Firth might not have seen much charm in Colin, women around the world disagreed. Firth is the consummate Mr Darcy, and now, over the last few years, the actor has blossomed into so much more.

Here, then, is a look at Firth -- this year's favourite for the Best Actor prize at the Academy Awards.

From Mr Darcy to King George VI

Image: A scene from A Single Man

Born to lecturers at King Alfred's College, Winchester, Firth's father taught History while his mother taught Comparative Religion.

Firth's grandparents were missionaries abroad, and so his parents were raised in India. Firth himself spent the initial part of his childhood in Nigeria, where his father taught, and returned to England at the age of five.

He took his first steps as an actor when, aged five, he played Jack Frost in a Christmas pantomime. Later, while at The Drama Centre London, his performance as Hamlet created waves.

From Mr Darcy to King George VI

Image: A scene from A Month In The Country

Firth made his silver-screen debut at the age of 24, playing Tommy Judd in the film adaptation of Bennett, opposite Rupert Everett. He soon started holding his own against top actors, rubbing shoulders with Sir Laurence Olivier in Lost Empires and Kenneth Branagh in A Month In The Country.

With solid screen presence and increasingly assured performances, Firth was considered part of the rising breed of British actors. The press was quick to dub him, Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Bruce Payne and Paul McGann as the Brit Pack.

From Mr Darcy to King George VI

Image: A scene from Bridget Jones's Diary

Success, however, came slowly and gradually to Firth. Which all changed when, at the age of 35, he played Fitzwilliam Darcy in a BBC TV adaptation of Pride And Prejudice. The role was a natural fit, and not only did Colin win many an acting accolade, but with newfound legions of female fans across the globe, he instantly crossed over into leading-man material.

A score of films followed -- selected highlights being the Bridget Jones movies, Shakespeare In Love, Fever Pitch, The Importance Of Being Earnest and Girl With A Pearl Earring -- and Firth was hailed as a wonderfully reliable, invariably charming star. Yet he often found himself pigeonholed in perfect-Brit roles, an in-control, alpha male foil to Hugh Grant's more fumbling charmer.

From Mr Darcy to King George VI

Image: A scene from A King's Speech

In 2009, however, came Tom Ford's A Single Man, giving us Firth's best ever performance as a bereaved college professor dealing with the death of his lover. It is a remarkably stunning performance, and Colin -- as a homosexual man in the closet, keeping even his mourning a secret -- is fantastic in the lead. The role won him an Oscar nomination and helped him break-out of the closeted image filmgoers outside the UK tended to slot him into.

Last year, in Tom Hooper's A King's Speech, Firth played a reluctant ruler with a debilitating stammer. And he was phenomenally good. Click here to find out why I think he should win for his performance as King George VI.

It's been quite a journey, from Hamlet to Darcy to an unlikely Oscar candidate to an Oscar frontrunner. And whatever the outcome may be on Oscar-night, Firth's already a winner.