Best Actress of the Decade, Entry No. 15: Carey Mulligan

To celebrate the last decade 2010-2019 we are counting down the best actresses and discussing some of their most notable and memorable performances of the last decade. With the help of Film Twitter, the ITOL team have selected 30 actresses. Entry No. 15 is Carey Mulligan, and writer Tom Moore discusses Mulligan’s career over the last decade.

By Tom Moore

If I was to walk around asking people if they knew who Carey Mulligan is, most people probably wouldn’t even know who I’m talking about – and it’s a damn shame. She’s easily had one of the strongest decades for performing and yet has somehow not gotten the recognition or universal praise that, at least I think, she deserves. In some ways she quietly owned the last decade with a set of versatile performances that boasted her genuine talent – but quiet time is over. With a new decade finally arriving, it’s not only time to look back the performances that made Mulligan one of the most under-appreciated talents of the last decade, but also a future performance that could finally give her the recognition she deserves.

an education
Carey Mulligan in An Education (2009) © BBC Films

The best place to start is really where the British actress’ talents where seen on full display in her breakthrough leading role in Lone Scherfig’s “An Education”. In the film, Mulligan plays Jenny, a bright teenager whose life changes after she becomes involved with a playboy nearly twice her age. Even when she’s sharing the screen with other acting greats like Peter Saarsgard, Rosemund Pike, Dominic Cooper, and Alfred Molina, Mulligan brings something so genuine that she just steals all of your attention. Jenny is thrust into a new life at major point of change in her life and Mulligan makes you feel all of it. There’s a genuine quirkiness that she brings in showing how much Jenny’s relationship with David (Saarsgard) means to her and it’s hard not to find yourself investing into her – even when it doesn’t work out. She not only embraces Jenny’s clever personality and individualistic strengths, but also embrace her naivety and flaws to create someone that viewers can instantly relate to.

She’s easily had one of the strongest decades for performing and yet has somehow not gotten the recognition or universal praise that, at least I think, she deserves.

The performance was a total breakthrough for Mulligan as it led to her receiving plenty of worthy accolade attention. She received a BAFTA, Golden Globe, SAG, and Oscar nomination for her performance, but only came away with a BAFTA win. Everything else Mulligan lost out to an incredibly strong performance from Sandra Bullock in “The Blindside”, but surely someone of Mulligan’s talents wouldn’t go too long without more awards recognition in her future – right? Strangely enough, though, this is, so far, the only time that Mulligan has received this kind of recognition and it’s unfortunate as she would go on to give knockout performance after knock performance for the rest of the decade.

Carey Mulligan in Shame (2011) © 2011 – Fox Searchlight Pictures

As the sister of a sex addict in Steve McQueen’s 2011 sophomore effort “Shame”, Mulligan got to show her full range. Mulligan delivers a performance that perfectly brings out Sissy’s inner demons as she discovers her brother’s. It’s a performance that requires so much more maturity and rawness than her previous performances that she makes look so easy to show. Not to mention, the entire sequence of her singing is absolutely mesmerizing in the emotion it evokes and the tear that falls from Michael Fassbender’s eye is completely justified.

She would later join the Coen Brothers for their 2013 black comedy-drama film “Inside Llewyn Davis” as Jean Davis. Here Mulligan delivers one of the most darkly comedic monologues I think I’ve ever heard as she berates Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) for possibly getting her pregnant. She presents an anger and frustration that’s not only understandable because of how she recognizes Llewyn’s destructive mentality, but also very genuine because you can feel that it comes from a place of care. Even when she’s yelling at him or giving him a hard time, Mulligan carefully places a subtle sense of worry and care that makes her performance so relatable and real.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby (2013) © Warner Bros. Picture

Honestly, even in films where Mulligan is in a smaller supporting role, she somehow finds a way to steal the show. Whether it’s playing Daisy Buchanan in Baz Lurhmann’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” or the girl that catches the eye of Driver (Ryan Gosling) in the undeniable cult classic from Nicolas Winding Refn, “Drive”, Mulligan just had this uncanny ability to draw viewers and keep them hooked on everything she brings to each of her performances.

It’s pure blasphemy that Mulligan, and the film as a whole, was somehow completely ignored by all the major awards and is easily one of the biggest and under-recognized snubs of 2018

More recently, Mulligan quietly made waves in Dee Revis’ “Mudbound” and delivered the best performance of her career in Paul Dano’s directorial debut, “Wildlife”. Like “An Education”, between all of the notable names that Mulligan shares the screen with in “Mudbound”, she surely finds a way to become the center of attention whenever she’s on-screen. She both showcases the incredibly strong backbone that develops with her character, Laura, and shares some very genuine chemistry with Mary J. Blige without the two ever having to say much to one another. With “Wildlife”, though, Mulligan takes things to a whole new level.

Carey Mulligan in Wildlife (2018)

Mulligan taps into a genuine honesty and hurt that’s hard not to understand as she plays Jeannette, a woman dissatisfied in her marriage and her families’ nuclear family lifestyle. As a viewer, you can feel the emotion, stress, and anguish that building in her performance and that’s always seemingly about to be unleashed and Mulligan keeps you hanging off every word. It’s a performance, and really a film, that hits viewers where it hurts because of real it feels. It’s pure blasphemy that Mulligan, and the film as a whole, was somehow completely ignored by all the major awards and is easily one of the biggest and under-recognized snubs of 2018.

So, while Mulligan’s quiet domination of the last decade sadly hasn’t made her the kind of household name that her talents warrant, things look like they are about to change this year. Mulligan’s next film, the feature debut of Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” looks to be one of her best. Playing Cassandra, a women seeking vengeance on men that cross her path because of a past tragedy, Mulligan is absolutely captivating in the trailer alone and it looks to be a true tour de force performance that I think could finally nab her that long awaited Oscar.

Regardless, Mulligan has already proven herself to be one of the top actresses working today and definitely has a promising future ahead of her. So, if you weren’t sure of the name Carey Mulligan before, I suggest you study up on her quick because she’s going to be a name to remember.

What’s your favourite performance by Carey Mulligan? Let us know in the comments below!

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