Colin Firth

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Colin Firth Pencil Portrait
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Last Update : 1/5/15

In the end, it all came down to a bottle of hair dye. After serving his apprenticeship and with stardom beckoning, Colin Firth almost lost out on the role that would secure his leading-man status, because TV executives thought his hair was too ginger for the dashing Mr Darcy.

There was opposition to his casting from writer Andrew Davies, who had adapted \‘Pride and Prejudice\’ for the small screen and Alan Yentob, then BBC1 controller. Fearing that the actor would not be brooding enough for the lead role, it was decided to dye his hair a much darker shade shortly before production began in 1994. Women loved him, and I could barely contemplate drawing him in any other role.

Recommended listening

Desert Island Discs (4/12/05)

Recommended viewing

Conspiracy (2001)

Even genocide must have its beginnings, and here Firth contributes a well crafted and understated performance as Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart, who would represent Wilhelm Frick, the Interior Minister, at the Wannsee conference on January 20, 1942, which discussed the imposition of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question in the German Sphere of Influence in Europe.” Kenneth Branaugh’s role may ‘carry the meat’, but Firth contributes some sense of order to the meeting, arguing persuasively in favour of legal protocol.

Stuckart, a Nazi Party member since 1922, had been actively involved in the early Nazi approach towards Jews, co-writing the anti-Jewish “Nuremberg Laws” imposed by the Nazi-controlled Reichstag in 1935. Whatever misgivings he shared with his fellow attendees at this infamous meeting, he was a stickler for the law, reportedly objecting ever more vociferously to the aformentioned laws being ignored by the SS in fulfilling the “Final Solution,” whilst pointing out the bureaucratic problems of such a radical course of action. Insisting that mandatory sterilization would be a better option in preserving the “spirit” of the Nuremberg laws, Firth’s character incurs the irritation and displeasure of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (played by Kenneth Branaugh.)

As the top secret meeting unfolds, this HBO presentation becomes an increasingly unsettling viewer experience, as Heydrich strives to ensure the cooperation of administrative leaders of various Government departments, in the implementation of the final solution to the Jewish question. It is a chilling exercise in ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ to comprehend that the vast majority of Jews of German-occupied Europe will be deported to Poland and murdered.

Stuckart holds his ground, despite the increasing realisation that the agenda is a ‘fait accompli;’ the decision to exterminate the Jews having already been decreed by Adolf Hitler, a man whose word in Germany is ‘above all written law,’ and this despite the absence of any written directive from the Fuehrer himself. The film depicts Heydrich working behind the scenes, pressuring and cajoling Kritzinger and Wilhelm Stuckart of the Interior Ministry, ultimately securing the assent of both men to his point of view. These private moments cannot be verified from transcripts of the conference, but undoubtedly occured in some form or another.

After the war, Stuckart would be arrested by the allies for war crimes and spend four years behind bars until being released for lack of evidence in 1949. He was killed in December 1953 near Hannover, West Germany in a car accident, though there has been speculation that the accident was set up by persons hunting down Nazi war criminals still at liberty.

In much the same way as 1957’s “Twelve Angry Men” was able to rivetingly chart the deliberations of a group of men within confined quarters, “Conspiracy” achieves a similar overall feel, the unofficial nature to the meeting only heightening our sense of horror at the unfolding discussion. At Wannsee, the SS estimated that the “Final Solution” would involve 11 million European Jews, including those from non-occupied countries such as Ireland, Sweden, Turkey, and Great Britain. Between the fall of 1941 and the fall of 1944, the German railways would transport millions of people to their deaths at extermination centres in occupied Poland.

In modern moviemaking, we don’t need a constant stream of CGI effects to generate thought provoking films, and for me personally, this represents another case for the defence. It’s doubtful though, that anyone under the age of forty would agree.

The Railway Man (2013)

Another compelling performance from Firth as the true life Eric Lomax, a former British army officer and POW, who discovered in the early 80’s that the Japanese interpreter who tortured him during the war, was still alive. Recreating actual events, he sets out to confront his old adversary with thoughts of little else but revenge.

At the beginning of the film, an early scene onboard a train allows Eric to fall in love, but he is incapable of seeing that a life well lived is his best revenge. Totally focused on his wounded feelings, thereby granting power to the person who caused him such pain, he finds love with his wife but rremains incapable of seeing the love, beauty and kindness she is capable of surrounding him with. He will only find forgiveness in his heart by confronting his demons.

Based on the 1995 memoir of Eric Lomax, the Royal Signals Officer who was tortured by the Japanese when deployed on the construction of the infamous Burma railway, the film utilises flashbacks to show the reasons for his emotional repression with violent outbursts of post traumatic stress decades after the event. Colin Firth portrays the older Lomax, with Jeremy Irvine contributing a sterling performance as his younger self, an earnest, floppy-haired individual prepared with quiet bravery to take the rap for the assembly of an illicit radio receiver.

Nicole Kidman is convincing as Patti (Lomax’s wife), portraying a dogged determination to liberate her husband from his mental anguish, with an ever present aura of deep love and concern. When we discover that Takashi Nagase, the young interpreter who played a key part in his torture, is still alive, working, of all things, as a guide at the Kanchanaburi War Museum, close to the famous bridge on the river Kwai, we realise that Eric will ultimately confront a man intent on self rehabilitation.

I ‘stumbled’ across this title for the princely sum of £1.99, a mere 50% of any pay per view cost. Well acted and extremely thought provoking, the film did not disappoint.

Love Actually (2003)

An undeniably charming Xmas themed movie but fatally flawed in parts and deserving of no place in the all time festive top ten.

Love Actually is a paean to centrism, essentially therefore a collection of moderate political views and it is precisely this literary ambivalence that engenders either pure love or hatred for the movie. I veer towards the former camp, with my overall enthusiasm somewhat tempered by several irritating subplots.

The movie features an upwardly mobile, largely white cast of comfortable wealth and bourgeois values falling in and out of love with one another. It was neither a vision of what Britain was nor really what it could ever have been; ultimately, it is a fantasy that vanished with the first financial crash.