One of the best actresses working today, Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan is a brilliant talent who can excel in any genre of film. Her latest venture as unconventional vigilante Cassie in the fantastic Promising Young Woman has made waves and is very likely to bring her another slew of award wins and nominations. She can also be seen in the Netflix drama The Dig which further cements her place as Hollywood royalty (you can read my review for The Dig here). Having worked with a variety of auteur directors and mainstream directors, Mulligan is one of the most versatile actresses working today. Having played strong women for her whole career, Mulligan has an effortless flair where she is able to tap into her characters and really dig deep.
As Mulligan’s star has only proven to rise and rise, it’s clear that she is at the very top of her game and with that in mind, I wanted to celebrate her incredible career by looking back at my top 5 performances. Just these choice alone show her range and ability to adapt to both leading and supporting roles with ease.
Here are the top 5 Carey Mulligan performances in chronological order:
An Education (2009)
Mulligan’s breakthrough as a lead in Lone Scherfig’s stellar coming of age drama, An Education. Set in the 1960s with the script written by Nick Hornby, Mulligan plays Jenny, a 16 year old school girl with aspirations to go to Oxford University who is seduced by an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) and her life quickly veers off track. Mulligan quickly gathered global acclaim for her performance as intelligent and naive Jenny winning her the BAFTA for Leading Actress and receiving a slew of nominations at the major awards show including an Academy Award nomination. Personally, I think she should have won for her performance but hopefully we will see her victorious. Her performance is tremendously layered and contrasted as Jenny is clearly a strong and capable young woman but at the end of the day she is still a teenager and is misguided by the adults around her.
Never Let Me Go (2010)
A film often overlooked but has long been a favourite of mine, Never Let Me Go is a beautiful adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s best selling novel. Directed by Mark Romanek and a script written by Ex Machina director Alex Garland, Mulligan shines as lead character Kathy H. Following a group of children who are raised to be “donors”, giving their vital organs for operations when grown, Never Let Me Go shows the human side to these characters whom society doesn’t deem worthy. Having loved her friend Tommy D (Andrew Garfield) since they were in school and watching him and her best friend, Ruth C (Keira Knightley) get in a relationship, we see how Kathy’s life seems to be shunned to the side by her friends as well as society. We see the world through Kathy H’s eyes and through Mullugan’s performance, we invest and see the film as a drama over a dystopian story.
2011 saw a double bill of phenomenal supporting performances by Mulligan with the first being her turn as Irene in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. When it comes to this film, the mind immediately goes to Ryan Gosling as the lead character but among all of the absurdity and violence that occurs in this film, it’s Mulligan’s performance that grounds the film and exposes the emotional attachment that the lead character has in the film. Living next door to The Driver (Gosling), Irene lives with her young son and a relationship between her and The Driver quickly develops. However, when Irene’s husband is released from prison, problems unfold. Mullugan isn’t in the film a lot but she works with what she has to ensure that her presence is felt throughout the film, especially when her safety is at risk.
The next selection is the second supporting role that Mulligan had in 2011. If you are a regular reader then you know how I absolutely love Steve McQueen’s films (read my McQueen ranking here) and Mulligan is perfectly cast as Sissy, sister of protagonist Brandon (Michael Fassbender). The film revolves around sex addict Brandon who finds his addiction getting worse and out of control. His life is turned upside down when Sissy arrives unexpectedly at his apartment with nowhere else to go. Both siblings have their troubles as Sissy struggles with self harm and depression but she is hopeful that the two can help each other get over their problems. Shame is not an easy film to watch and it is extremely explicit with the issues discussed but the direction and performances showcase the range and talent. Mulligan is a supporting role but her performance is just as important to the film as Fassbender’s. It is thanks to Sissy’s character that we really see the conflict in Brandon laid bare for the audience to see.
Promising Young Woman (2020)
Probably the most fearless role Mulligan has done, Promising Young Woman deserves all of the acclaim that it has and more. I have written a full review which you can read here. Needless to say that Mulligan will no doubt receive an array of award nominations and hopefully win as well. Her performance as Cassie, a young woman who’s future was ripped away after her best friend was raped and committed suicide, is heart breaking and terrifying, showing how far one will go to right the wrongs.
There are even more performances I could have included in this list but the ones I have selected really showcase Mulligan’s range in terms of screen time and genre. The consistent thread with all of her performances is that she always makes the most whether she is the protagonist or has a smaller role. Mulligan is an actress who adapts an intellectual approach and clearly delves deep into her characters and with Promising Young Woman, it feels like she has cemented herself as a strong leading woman to the masses.
What is your favourite performance by Carey Mullugan? Let me know in the comments below!