Force of Firth: Nicole Kidman sends for Britain's heart-throb

He's the ideal husband for the millions of women who go to see his films, and to many of his leading ladies

He is arguably Britain's greatest living heart-throb. Millions consider him their dream husband, and Nicole Kidman is no different. Unlike anyone else, the Oscar-winning actress is in a position to live her Colin Firth fantasy not just once, but twice.

No sooner had filming ended on the upcoming Second World War drama The Railway Man, in which they play a married couple, than cameras begin rolling in London this week on the pair's next project.

Kidman was the first to sign up to play the lead in Before I Go to Sleep, based on the S J Watson novel about a woman who wakes up every morning with no memory. She was followed by the Zero Dark Thirty star Mark Strong. But the Australian wanted only one man to play her on-screen husband, again.

Strong told The Independent on Sunday that he was looking forward to working with Firth and Kidman: "They're teaming up again. Colin plays Nicole's husband and I play her doctor. It's all being filmed in London."

Rowan Joffe, who wrote The American and 28 Weeks Later, has written the screenplay and is directing. Strong added: "It's a very, good script, a really good thriller. It's a nice one to do."

Before I Go to Sleep would have been the third Firth/Kidman movieif Firth hadn't dropped out of Chan-wook Park's English-language debut film Stoker, which previewed at last month's Sundance Film Festival. But Kidman was not to be denied a second time.

Since his breakthrough performance as Mr Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice almost 20 years ago, Firth has gone on to melt the hearts of a slew Hollywood's leading ladies. His eco-activism has earned him another set of swooning admirers.

Though he may be no George Clooney or Brad Pitt, Firth has utilised his old-school charm to turn himself into an unlikely sex symbol. Initially bemused at the "mass hysteria" that followed his emergence from that lake in clinging breeches, he has spoken of the difficulties in filming love scenes with some of the world's most beautiful women.

As charming off-screen as on, he famously got down on one knee for Meryl Streep at last year's Baftas, to pick up her Jimmy Choo stiletto after it fell off when The Iron Lady star climbed the stairs to collect her award for best actress. Streep gave her Mamma Mia! co-star a kiss on the lips for his act of chivalry, which enabled her to put the shoe back on before delivering her acceptance speech.

"That couldn't have gone worse," Streep joked. Millions of women begged to differ.

Cameron Diaz gushed about playing opposite Firth in last year's Coen brothers' comedy Gambit, while Renée Zellweger, Julianne Moore and Scarlett Johansson have all been equally besotted.

Helen Mirren even joked last month when receiving a star along the Hollywood Walk of Fame next to her fellow Brit: "I couldn't be prouder and more happy that I'm actually going to finally lie next to Colin Firth, something I've been wanting to do for a very long time."

Firth has laughed off claims in the past that he keeps falling for his leading ladies. The 52-year-old has a 22-year-old son, William, from his relationship with the Canadian actress Meg Tilly, whom he met on the set of Valmont. He briefly dated his Pride and Prejudice co-star Jennifer Ehle, before starting a relationship with Livia Giuggioli, an Italian documentary maker whom he met in Colombia in 1996 while filming the TV series Nostromo. They have two sons, Luca and Matteo.

It was a gay role as the English professor in A Single Man for which Firth picked up his first Academy nomination, losing out in 2010 to Jeff Bridges. He did not have to wait too long for the Oscar to arrive, however, winning the following year for his portrayal of the Queen's father, George VI, in The King's Speech.

Renée Zellweger should also get another chance to working with Firth, in Bridget Jones's Baby, if the third Helen Fielding instalment gets off the ground.

What his leading ladies said

Talulah Riley

St Trinian's (2007)

'He's really lovely. Everyone knows and loves Colin Firth, he's a national treasure. When I was 10 I was madly in love with Darcy, and then I got to act with him! He's gorgeous.'

Cameron Diaz

Gambit (2012)

'He seduced me straight away. I was like, 'What is going on here? Why am I falling in love with Colin Firth? It's the British sense of humour, it is unique.'

Scarlett Johansson

Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003)

'It was really lucky that Colin and I had such good chemistry. I had seen him in Pride and Prejudice. He was very sexy, but I still didn't know what to expect.'

Julianne Moore

A Single Man (2009)

'Once I met him and had my high expectations exceeded, I found it was also easy to play the part of a woman who had loved and been friends with him for 20 years.'

Helena Bonham Carter

The King's Speech (2010)

'We're both big fans of iFart [iPhone app used to send a whoopie cushion noise to a friend's phone]. Colin started it! We tried to embarrass each other while filming.'

Renée Zellweger

Two Bridget Jones movies (2001 and 2004)

'It was great [working with Firth]. Often you don't get a chance to renew friendships with actors as your paths don't cross unless at some film event or festival.'

Catherine Keener

Genova (2008)

'He is a little reserved [off screen]. Is that very English? I found him hysterically funny. I have the biggest crush on him, then I found out everyone else does, too.'

Amanda Seyfried

Mamma Mia! (2008)

'He is very sexy, and when I heard that he was cast in Mamma Mia!, I just couldn't wait to call my sister to tell her.'

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