Face of British costume dramas is honoured - for his contribution to Italy

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The Independent Culture

He found fame playing a football obsessive, a brooding Mr Darcy in the television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Renée Zellweger's love interest in the Bridget Jones films.

He found fame playing a football obsessive, a brooding Mr Darcy in the television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Renée Zellweger's love interest in the Bridget Jones films.

Now an accolade of an entirely different sort has come the way of actor Colin Firth, who has been awarded one of the highest honours of the Italian state and one which highlights a different side to his character.

Firth has been made a Commander of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity, a title originally created in 1947 to recognise those who helped rebuild post-war Italy. He has been thus honoured in recognition of his work promoting the image of Italy and for his involvement with the Italian Cultural Institute in London, where he has helped stage a number of literary events.

Firth, 44, has been married to Livia Giuggioli, an Italian documentary film producer, since1997 and the couple, who have two sons, spend a great deal of time there. He said recently: "Italy has become a big part of my life now. I love it. It's a huge blessing. I sort of married a whole family and a whole country. And learning Italian is a huge bonus that I didn't expect. I thought I was doomed to be unilingual for the rest of my life, like most Englishmen."

The award was presented to him at a ceremony at the Italian embassy. An embassy spokesman said yesterday: "This honour is given because of his significant contribution to the promotion of Italy's image in the United Kingdom. But he is also very well known in Italy for his films like Fever Pitch and the Bridget Jones films.''

Firth has organised readings from Leonardo Sciascia, Primo Levi and other leading Italian writers and an evening dedicated to Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of The Leopard.

The Embassy said a number of Britons had been similarly honoured, including Rocco Forte, the hotelier, whose family are Italian;civil engineer John Burland who has been part of the project to stabilise the leaning Tower of Pisa and Lord Robertson, the former secretary-general of Nato.

Firth was born in Grayshott, Hampshire. Although a regular on British television and with a number of film parts behind him, including a starring role in the film version of the Nick Hornby book Fever Pitch, he found real fame playing Mr Darcy.

His appearance became a topic in Helen Fielding's column, in The Independent, that led to the books and films of Bridget Jones's Diary - and, in a smart piece of casting, he played her love interest, Mark Darcy, in both films.

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