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In Praise of Carey Mulligan in Suffragette

Murtada here, with a lot of love and respect for Carey Mulligan.

There's a scene late in Suffragette when Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) realizes the devastating enormity of the separation from her son. Mulligan’s face, in a second, flickers many emotions, all so overwhelming that you feel this woman’s pain in your gut. Yet she doesn’t overplay or milk the moment for maximum effect. She remains understated.

This is just one of many moments in the film in which Mulligan transcends her movie and reaches her audience with clarity and without exaggeration. Set in London in 1912, Suffragette tells the story of Watts, her education and indoctrination into the suffrage movement. When the film starts, she is working in a laundry, trying to survive a hard existence alongside her husband and young son. A chance encounter introduces her to the suffragettes and she becomes a member of their embattled movement. 

It is through Mulligan that we enter this world. Her character is a composite of many working women who were part of the movement and is built to be the audience surrogate. Her performance is so strong that the plight of these women is not only depicted effectively, but comes alive. I could not control my emotions or my tears. Mulligan’s performance is an emotional marvel and delivered with technical mastery. Her working class English accent is impeccable, her weariness and defeat is visible in her hunched back and heavy walk, her defiance rises to crescendo and is delivered with skillful control of her voice. This is why there are awards for acting.

The film is dividing critics and its reception is unfortunately lukewarm. Some accuse it of being well intentioned but conventional. "Earnest", "formulaic" and "schematic" are words used to describe Suffragette.

But the film derives most of its power from the performance at its center. Mulligan is riding on a wave of acclaim, with co-star Meryl Streep recently praising her:

"I’m in awe of your talent . . . I really am. I’m also in awe of your voice, which is like warm caramel poured over the English language. I applaud your taste in material and how you hold out for stuff. Even when you were young and didn’t have any money, you just did things that mattered. I can’t wait to see what Carey Mulligan will give us next, what new woman she’ll give birth to”.

In her earlier 2015 release Far From the Madding Crowd, Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdeen says "It's my intention to astonish you all". And you do Carey. Always.

Do you think Carey Mulligan in on her way to a second Oscar nomination?

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Reader Comments (18)

Absolutely. I think Brie, Carey and Blanchett (for one performance or the other) are the most sure bets at the moment (although that can always change).

Lawrence (still sight unseen) could easily fall out
And I think Ronan will have a more difficult road to the nomination than Brooklyn's fans are anticipating

So those two are at risk so to speak though I think they should still be at #4 & #5 respectively

October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

I hope she gets a nod, but I'm not 100% convinced. However, the performance is as strong as any other contender right now, no denying it.

Potential threats: Jolie, Roberts, Vikander (if the category fraud is denied), Mara (ditto), Blunt.

October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I think it's going to be a slow build, and she will be the nomination that just can't be denied.

October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I want her to get her 2nd nom. Pleading with my gut.

October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBlueMoon02

I still think Lawrence, Blanchett, Ronan and Larson are sure things. After that, Mulligan is likely unless the actors rally behind one of the senior actresses: Rampling, Tomlin, Smith or Danner.

October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

I think the 3 time winner and 19 times nomination champ is trying her best to get her in.

October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

I think she's quite vulnerable at this stage. All the attention surrounding Suffragette seems to about either its feminist message and/or how a lot of the movie's elements fall short. I've heard good things about Mulligan, but not loud enough to make me think she's a slam-dunk.

October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

Contemporary film criticism really baffles me sometimes. 'Suffragette' is significantly stronger than many of the prestige films that are showered with praise across the board.

Carey Mulligan was great, but I thought Helena Bonham Carter and Anne-Marie Duff were terrific, too. It's a shame that the film's mixed reception and other actresses' category fraud will ensure they receive no awards attention.

October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike

I agree wholeheartedly with the assessment of Mulligan. She is outstanding, and while, yes, her emotional register is remarkable, it's the flashes of real anger which give bite and dimension to the performance. The look in her eyes just before she gets her momentary revenge on her manager, or any of the scenes with Brendan Gleeson are wonderful.

But I also think the reception for the film is a bit mystifying. it's a muscular, emotional drama, with a powerful ending. it's not as good as Selma was at paralleling it's individual drama with the wider fight for women's votes, but it worked for me.

November 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterIanO

I haven't seen the film, but I think its poor box office hurt her chances and a nomination is unlikely. It's no longer considered a Best Picture threat, so she's now competing for screener time with the other ladies whose films aren't considered a Best Picture threat - mainly, Rampling, Tomlin and Danner, all of whose films are significantly better reviewed than Suffragette (and Grandma and I'll See You in My Dreams are lighter and shorter, therefore more likely to be watched).

November 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I do not need Blanchett or Lawrence getting another golden man so soon, though nomination seems plausible.
Mulligan and Larson could be worthy contenders.
But I want CHARLOTTE RAMPLING to win the Oscar!

November 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Of course it had poor box office..... Still stuck in limited release land.... I fully intended to see it on opening day and now I am lucky if I just see out Blu Ray.....

As for Mulligan... Sure she still has a chance at a nomination just maybe one of the last 2 slots

November 1, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjamie

Mike and IanO - agree that the crtical reception is strange, the film is much stronger than that. Although I'm happy NYTimes gave it one of the most positive reviews. Hopefully it can come back and gain more viewers if Mulligan gets some awards traction.

November 1, 2015 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

jamie - Suffragette made around $19,000 per screen in its opening weekend in limited release, which is not terrible, but not where the film needs to be if it's going to be a Best Picture or Best Actress Oscar contender in a competitive year. By contrast, Room made twice that at the same number of theaters.

It's rare for a film with poor limited release showing to do well in wide release, though sometimes the reverse occurs (eg, Steve Jobs). A poor limited release box office demonstrates there is limited public interest in the film.

November 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Did not know limited wide release poor box office numbers always equated to no nomination come Oscar time... Guess we will wait and see?

November 1, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjamie

I couldn't get too worked up about Suffragette; its script and direction struck me as beneath its subject. But it wasn't bad, either, and folks should check it out. Some bits quite exciting, and it's a different history of feminist activism than we usually see rehearsed in media... when the media pays any attention to feminist activism at all.

The post, by the way, was lovely.

November 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Will I like Mulligan in this if I thought she was dire in Far From the Madding Crowd? Hmmm. I'm waiting to be impressed by her. She was well cast in An Education and Never Let Me Go, but the films sort of restricted her. She's seemed so out of place to me in everything else.

November 1, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKate

She seems to be miscast quite a bit--The Great Gatsby, Far From the Madding Crowd. I just saw her in Shame, and she was quite remarkable. I want to see Suffragette and am wishing her well.

November 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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