Firth was born in Hampshire, England, and spent part of his childhood in Nigeria where his family were missionaries. His first film and television appearances were made in 1984. In 1987, he played alongside Kenneth Branagh in the film version of J. L. Carr's novel, A Month in the Country. In 1989, he took the lead in the film Valmont, playing opposite Meg Tilly, with whom he had a well-publicised relationship. His first major TV role came in the same year, when he played the lead in the play, Tumbledown, a drama based on real events in the Falklands War.
Despite widespread admiration for his performances, it was only with Pride and Prejudice that Firth's career really took off. Since then, he has starred in films such as Fever Pitch (1997), Shakespeare in Love (1998), Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) and Love Actually (2003), as well as TV productions including \Donovan Quick (an updated version of Don Quixote) (1999) and Conspiracy (2001).
Colin Firth has a younger brother, Jonathan, who is also an actor, but is not related to Peter Firth or Julian Firth.