(Updated: December 14, 2019) While in-demand actors do every film that comes their way, Carey Mulligan has been rather picky about her characters. The multi-faceted star actress has taken up one challenging role after another. Despite the fresh-faced girlish prettiness and a sweet dimpled smile, she has smartly avoided being typecast an amenable girl. Mulligan’s big eyes and angel-face are her biggest plus. What I like about the actress is that she rarely plays passive characters. Whether she is playing vulnerable, feisty, resilient, unyielding or passionate characters, her performances are always brooding and genuinely convincing.
As she turns 34 this year, here’s a look back at some of her best performances:
11. Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Director: Joe Wright
Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel was Mulligan’s very first movie. She’s said to have worked as a barmaid while auditioning for the role of Kitty Bennet. Keira Knightley played the protagonist Elizabeth and soon the pair became friends. Although the cast included a bunch of talented actors like Rosamund Pike, Donald Sutherland and Judi Dench, Mulligan made a fine impression. The role brought her numerous opportunities in TV. But at the same time, Mulligan spurned period pieces to avoid repeatedly playing the rich, vulnerable woman.
10. Mudbound (2017)
Director: Dee Rees
In Dee Rees’ adaptation of Hilary Jordan’s novel, Carey Mulligan plays Laura, a sheltered housewife of an obstinate farmer. The tale is set in the 1940s in the racially-segregated Mississippi Delta (Jim Crow south). Hence, Laura’s bond with her black neighbor Florence brings an interesting emotional dimension to the narrative. Sporting the sun-damaged make-up, Mulligan delivers a fine-tuned performance that brings Laura’s restlessness to the fore. Both Mulligan and singing superstar Mary Bilge (as Florence) filter their inner conflicts through subtle gestures and long pauses.
Where to Watch: Netflix
9. The Great Gatsby (2013)
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Carey Mulligan has confessed that she didn’t love her work in Baz Luhrmann’s romance spectacle The Great Gatsby. She further adds that the scale of the project intimidated her. Mulligan actually beat out every A-list actress in Hollywood (Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, etc) to play Daisy Buchanan. She does succeed in looking radiant and charming enough. Yet when it comes to romance, Di Caprio and Mulligan don’t share a delectable chemistry. In fact, their emotionally adrift scenes together are easily forgettable.
Where to Watch: Netflix
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8. Suffragette (2015)
Director: Sarah Gavron
Carey Mulligan’s Maud in women’s rights drama Suffragete marks yet another eloquent, affecting performance. Directed by Sarah Gavron, this film pays tribute to the courageous women who made sure that their voices are heard in early 20th century Britain. Maud Watts is a lowly laundry worker in London, whose noble presence lends emotional credence to the proceedings. Her ascension from the fringes to the front-line of women’s movement is admirably construed with minimal melodrama. Furthermore, Mulligan’s spirited and restrained performance brings individuality to her character, seldom turning Maud into a mere symbol.
7. Never Let Me Go (2010)
Director: Mark Romanek
Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s remarkable novel sees Carey Mulligan re-uniting with her friend and Pride & Prejudice co-star Keira Knightley. At first look, Never Let Me Go seems to be a period drama, set in a boarding school. But there’s a horrific, dystopian idea attached to the narrative. The boarding-school students are human clones, who are raised to fulfill the sole purpose of providing organs for transplants. Mulligan plays Kathy, who has a crush on Tommy (Garfield) and she’s friends with Ruth (Knightley). It’s a tale of doomed romance set in an otherworldly, slightly surrealistic world. Mulligan with her compassionate looks was the perfect fit to play Kathy. Her skillfully modulated performance allows us to fully comprehend the horror of the situation.
6. Drive (2011)
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
In Nicolas Winding Refn’s uber cool crime drama, Carey Mulligan plays a passive character. Her Irene is a shy, downtrodden young wife who’s waiting for her knight-in-shining-armor. Nevertheless, Mulligan bestows enigmatic layers to this muted, defenseless character. She remains luminescent, underlining the standard role with range of different emotions. What’s more undeniable is the achingly beautiful, dream-like chemistry she shares with Ryan Gosling’s nameless driver. Their relationship/friendship marked by tender looks and fleeting smiles felt so real and natural. Furthermore, the elegant, slo-mo kiss between her and Gosling (in the lift sequence) is played out as heavenly as possible.
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5. Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
In Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic tragedy novel, Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdene, the headstrong young woman of 19th century. Even though Vinterberg’s version isn’t as remarkable as John Schlesinger’s 1967 adaption, the casting and performances are solid. Particularly, Mulligan as the wilful, plucky Bathsheba. She is at her strongest when bringing out Bathesheba’s impetuous, foolhardy side. The sensitive performance of Michael Sheen also perfectly matches that of Mulligan’s.
4. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Director: Coen Brothers
Carey Mulligan was cast against type in Coen Brothers’ 60s-set folk music drama. The film revolves around down-and-out folk singer Llewyn Davis. He is trying to make a solo career for himself after the suicide of his singing partner. But as his former lover Jean says: ‘He’s more likely to turn everything to shit’. And, Jean constantly cusses him out because she expects a child and Llewyn might be the father. Mulligan’s raging, straight-talking Jean Berkey easily allows her to shed the girl-next-door appeal. Especially, in the scene Jean scorches Oscar Isaac‘s ne’er-do-well Llewyn in the Washington park. This is the very no nonsense character she’s played in her career so far. Mulligan, despite the vitriolic ravings, also brings forth a warmheartedness to the role, conveyed through her chameleonic looks.
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3. Wildlife (2018)
Director: Paul Dano
Paul Dano’s triumphant directorial debut saw Carey Mulligan give one of her career-best performances, where she plays Jeanette, an everyday housewife in a family that seems to be coming part at the seams. When Jerry, Jeanette’s husband (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) gets fired from his job as a golf pro at a country club, a chain of events see an atomic bomb-like explosion of their marriage.
In a movie dominated by exceptional acting performances, it is Mulligan who stands out as Jeanette, the housewife whose endless patience and optimism finally wears out and turns to rage and resentment. She may not have been nominated for an Oscar, but this sure was one of the best performances of 2018. (By Aditya Sarma)
2. Shame (2011)
Director: Steve McQueen
Ever since Carey Mulligan debuted with the role of Kitty Bennett in the 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, she’s known for playing winsome characters. She donned the roles of bright girls who are sharply aware of their frailties and intelligence. Sissy in Steve McQueen’s challenging drama Shame is wholly different from those characters. She is a boisterous and troubled young woman, sharing a shady past with her dejected brother Brandon. Although Michael Fassbender’s sex-addicted Brandon plays the nominal role, Mulligan’s raw and vulnerable performance brings big emotional impact into the narrative.
Emotionally needy Sissy remains the catalyst for Brandon’s downward spiral and also indirectly guides him towards a possible redemption. In fact, McQueen allows the two actors to deeply explore their characters without the interference of enhanced visual stylization. Many of the narrative’s intense scenes unfurl in long takes with no conventional cutting. The most haunting moment in Mulligan’s performance is the unbroken close-up shot of her singing “New York, New York”. This scene set in a dinner club is one of the film’s string of heartbreaking moments.
1. An Education (2009)
Director: Lone Scherfig
British director Lone Scherfig’s taut coming-of-age drama bestowed Carey Mulligan with her first leading role. The 24-year old actress played Jenny Mellor, a smart 16-year old contemplating her womanhood in the middle of her affair with a bewitching yet older conman (Peter Sarsgaard). An Education was based on journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir about growing up in 1960s London. Apart from Sarsgaard, the formidable supporting cast includes Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike, and Cara Seymour. Yet it was Mulligan who carried the film on her shoulders with grace. She was instantly recognized as the breakthrough star of the year.
Some glowing reviews even evoked comparisons to the late Audrey Hepburn. In fact, those who witnessed Mulligan’s charming and poised presence are most likely to agree. What’s wondrous about this performance is the way she charts Jenny’s maturation that never feels less than true. Moreover, this incredibly measured acting style earned her an Oscar nomination.
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