If Carey Mulligan reaches the Oscar podium on 25 April with her by turns thrilling and devastating lead performance in Emerald Fennell’s subversive feature debut Promising Young Woman, her win would cement her status as one of the most consistently brilliant actors in the industry today. Over the past 16 years, the 35-year-old Londoner has worked with quiet precision, bringing depth, complexity and intelligence to every part she takes on. While she’s still best known for playing strong-willed heroines in lyrical period dramas, it’s her contemporary roles—from a messy lounge singer in Shame (2011) to this recent transformation—that are a true testament to her talent.
Ahead of the ceremony, we look back at Mulligan’s formidable career through her 13 best films to date.
1. Pride & Prejudice (2005)
In her first big-screen turn as the overeager and impressionable Kitty Bennet, the younger sister of Jane (Rosamund Pike) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) in Joe Wright’s rhapsodic adaptation of Jane Austen, Mulligan shines. Beyond her dimples, ringlets and fits of giggles is a conflicted teenager.
2. An Education (2009)
Her breakthrough came in Lone Scherfig’s coming-of-age charmer, the 1960s-set story of a student who falls for a mysterious older man (Peter Sarsgaard) and is swept off to a world of concerts, art auctions and parties that soon collapses around them. She left with an Oscar nod for Best Actress.
3. Never Let Me Go (2010)
Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield bring wistful melancholy to the parts of three young adults who met at a sinister boarding school in Mark Romanek’s dystopian tearjerker. As we learn about their fates, jealousies arise, existential questions linger and hope endures against all odds.
4. Drive (2011)
Slick and stylised, Nicolas Winding Refn’s neon-drenched crime saga features Ryan Gosling as a laconic getaway driver who is captivated by his enigmatic neighbour, a single mother played with touching tenderness by Mulligan. Their burgeoning love story provides respite amid the violence.
5. Shame (2011)
For a glimpse at Mulligan’s magnetism, watch her croon New York, New York in Steve McQueen’s harrowing study of sex addiction and self-loathing. As an aspiring singer and the volatile sister of Michael Fassbender’s steely executive, she arrives unannounced and forces him to face their past.
6. The Great Gatsby (2013)
With her neat blonde crop, embellished flapper dresses and expression of wide-eyed uncertainty, Mulligan embodies Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann’s bombastic take on F Scott Fitzgerald. Put on a pedestal by the titular playboy (Leonardo DiCaprio), she remains as dazzling as she is inscrutable.
7. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
A foul-mouthed folk singer who takes her hapless ex-lover (Oscar Isaac) to task, Mulligan has all the funniest lines in the Coen brothers’ poignant tribute to the Greenwich Village music scene of the early 1960s. We see her anger at him bubble over, but on stage, she’s nothing short of angelic.
8. Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)
It’s difficult to imagine anyone channelling the strength, poise and simmering desire of Thomas Hardy’s Bathsheba Everdene better than Mulligan in Thomas Vinterberg’s elemental retelling. As she chooses between three dashing suitors, while managing her own farm, expect sparks to fly.
9. Suffragette (2015)
Beside Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst and Natalie Press as Emily Davison, two icons of the women’s suffrage movement, Mulligan plays an everywoman who is caught up in a protest and no longer able to tolerate the injustices of her life. Under Sarah Gavron’s direction, it’s a sweeping epic.
10. Mudbound (2017)
When a couple (Mulligan and Jason Clarke) relocate to rural Mississippi during the second world war in Dee Rees’ painterly period piece, their precarious existence intersects with that of a Black family who are also struggling. The former’s silences speak volumes, registering her discontent.
11. Wildlife (2018)
An industrious housewife fights for survival after her husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) leaves her and her son (Ed Oxenbould) to tackle forest fires in Montana in this stunning domestic drama from Paul Dano. Mulligan is an extraordinary lead, combining vulnerability with clear-eyed determination.
12. Promising Young Woman (2020)
One of Mulligan’s most dynamic roles to date comes in Emerald Fennell’s darkly comic examination of toxic masculinity. It follows a medical school dropout on a mission to avenge her best friend’s death, weaving together surprising moments of levity with debilitating sorrow and righteous rage.
13. The Dig (2021)
The true story of a landowner and the archaeologist who found an Anglo Saxon burial ship on her property, as depicted by Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, is the subject of Simon Stone’s meditation on history. There’s much to admire, from Mulligan’s impeccable costumes to her quietly moving turn.