How fitting that Colin Firth now has a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame!
Jesse Eisenberg, my own pick for the Oscars' best actor, is an electric combination of laser-like intellect and offbeat instinct. Jeff Bridges has an almost mystical capacity for pouring his soul into a character -- or swapping souls with characters when they're as well-developed as Rooster Cogburn.
The hugely talented Firth has more conventional leading-man qualities than either of them. Yet he derives his special charisma by the way he plays against those qualities. He's polished, handsome and graceful, but he became an international TV superstar as the off-putting Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice" (a role that even Laurence Olivier found difficult in the otherwise delightful 1940 movie). Whether embodying Jane Austen's Darcy or his contemporary counterpart, the forbidding human-rights lawyer Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones's Diary, Firth achieves something difficult -- a hard charm, not an easy charm.
As the stammering King George VI in "The King's Speech," who finds the British crown thrust upon him as fascism sweeps through Europe, Firth never goes for simple pathos or poignancy. He intermingles deep shyness, stubborn pride, and even a touch of in-grown arrogance whenever his speech therapist (the equally great Geoffrey Rush) oversteps proper bounds. Firth exploits every nuance in David Seidler's wonderful script and brings out the universality of the story. It's about a monarch mastering speech, and a man finding his own voice.