Since her first onscreen role as Kitty Bennett in Pride & Prejudice (2005), Carey Mulligan has impressed with her bold and exciting choices as an actress. Her roles have not limited her to being typecast within a particular genre of film, as she has acted in a range of projects, from period dramas to black comedy to a neo-noir crime drama.
Within only a ten year period she has worked with a notable array of acclaimed directors, including Joel and Ethan Coen, Nicolas Winding Refn, Lone Scherfig and Steve McQueen. Since 2015 she has been absent from the screen but with the upcoming release of the heavily anticipated Mudbound (2017) Mulligan’s role in the period epic is likely to garner awards attention. She is also starring alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in Paul Dano’s directorial debut Wildlife (2018), providing further evidence that Carey Mulligan is still one to watch.
She has defied audience and critics expectations by not only picking roles suited to the English rose type which she could have easily stuck to. She has instead forged a career path for herself both in Britain and America, always picking characters which interest her and often staying away from the blockbuster, big budget productions.
The one obvious exception in her filmography is Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013), which seems different to the other projects she often stars in. However, her casting as Daisy Buchanan does not seem out of place when considering Carey Mulligan’s decisions to play women who are complex and enigmatic throughout her career. She has not only worked in film, but has appeared on stage and television. One of her prominent television appearances is in the Blink episode of Doctor Who, an episode which is remembered as one of the most memorable episodes in the show’s recent run.
These performances are the ones which I believe show Carey Mulligan’s range and prove that she is one of the most exciting actresses working today.
8. The Great Gatsby (2013)
In a recent interview Carey Mulligan revealed that “I didn’t love my work in Gatsby”. She goes on to describe feeling intimidated by the scale of the Baz Luhrmann directed project, which earned $351 million at the box office on a budget of $105 million.
This commercially successful but critically underwhelming adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel focused heavily on visual splendour and extravagance to translate the story of Jay Gatsby and the American Dream to the screen.
This is certainly not her best or her most interesting role to date, yet choosing to take on the iconic role of Daisy Buchanan shows Mulligan’s willingness to take risks with the characters she chooses to play and it is worth mentioning as it marks an important performance in her filmography.
Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of one of the most famous and polarizing figures in American literature is one of the more successful elements of The Great Gatsby. She expertly captures the dazzling and beautiful presence of Daisy but also her coy and elusive nature. Her complex performance allows for the different shades to Daisy’s character to shine and keep her mysterious and enigmatic presence alive.
Mulligan performs alongside Leonardo di Caprio without ever being overshadowed. The set pieces, the costumes and the Old Hollywood glamour in the production allows for the theatricality of Mulligan’s performance as Daisy to stand out and translate well onscreen. Her English accent transforms into Daisy’s Southern drawl and she really does capture the essence of Daisy as she was written in the text.
7. Suffragette (2015)
In the first film to be made about the suffragettes in early twentieth century Britain, Carey Mulligan plays Maud Watts, a young suffragette who is also a wife and a mother who risks everything to become involved in the movement. The film is directed by Sarah Gavron and stars other exceptionally talented actors including Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne-Marie Duff.
Gavron made this story more personal by focusing predominantly on Maud’s life and the women involved in the movement around her. The film succeeded in not being as melodramatic as it could have been, as it was grounded by Mulligan’s stirring and compassionate performance as a suffragette who even puts her marriage, her role as a mother and her job at risk to fight for what she believes in.
The character of Maud is fictional but made up of lots of different women involved in the movement from the time. Mulligan’s awareness of the social importance of the roles she picks is significant when discussing her exciting and varied career. She makes intelligent choices as to the roles and films she’s attached to, often playing characters like Maud which educate and inform audiences while telling important stories. Her performance and the film as a whole is poignant and still feels timely, as equality is still far from a reality for many.
6. Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)
“It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language chiefly made by men to express theirs.”
Mulligan plays the strong-willed and fiercely independent Bathsheba Everdene, whose ideas about womanhood and marriage are refreshing for a film set in nineteenth century Victorian England.
Based on the Thomas Hardy novel, Bathsheba Everdene is considered to be a famous literary heroine. The film opens with her declining a proposal from Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer, as she says she is too independent. She then goes on to inherit a farm from her uncle and her ambition becomes to be successful without giving herself up to a man and to marriage. Far from the Madding Crowd follows Bathsheba’s life, as she attracts the attention of three different suitors over time.
Mulligan shines as the headstrong woman asserting control over her own future. The charming dialogue and the flirtation in the romantic elements of the film allow Mulligan to shine and juxtapose the serious nature of some of the tragic events. Her musical performance of “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme” with Michael Sheen is a particularly heart warming and special moment. The film, and in particular Carey Mulligan’s performance, has been critically praised.
5. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
In the Coen brothers Inside Llewyn Davis, audiences are witness to a very different kind of performance from Carey Mulligan. She succeeds in capturing the black humour the Coen brothers are famous for in her portrayal of Jean.
The film follows Oscar Isaac’s struggling folk singer Llewyn Davis in 1961 in Greenwich Village in New York. Mulligan plays Jean, who is married to Justin Timberlake’s Jim, yet she is pregnant and believes the father is possibly Llewyn Davis’. She acts cold, harsh and is consistently rude to Llewyn. Mulligan repeatedly steals the scenes she is in with her portrayal of Jean’s wit and sharpness. Jean is clearly unfaithful to Jim, so the viewer instantly begins to dislike her yet in her brief screen time Mulligan manages to steal every scene.
In Jean and Jim’s performance of “Five Hundred Miles”, Mulligan shows again her ability to convey multiple sides to a character. Jean is a complex character and the lack of back story to hers and Llewyn’s relationship allows for Mulligan to draw on the enigmatic qualities of her personality. Jean must have felt something for Llewyn at some point, yet she chooses to respond to him with harsh and blunt rudeness. Yet, when they are performing, there are moments where it seems like there is something between them. Like in her performance in Drive, Mulligan achieves many layers of meaning behind just one look.