[Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand in support of Indie Film Month. Today’s pick, "Suffragette," is available now On Demand. Need help finding a movie to watch? Let TWC find the best fit for your mood here.]
Carey Mulligan took it relatively easy in 2015, starring in just two feature films and an eight-episode comedy series ("The Walker," which aired on Refinery29’s online-only platform), during the course of a year, continuing her recent trend of scaling back her work to focus on truly meaty and exceptionally unique roles and projects. (Similarly, in 2014, she only showed up in a National Theater Live project and the TV miniseries "The Spoils of Babylon," while 2013 saw her appearing in big parts in "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "The Great Gatsby.")
Yet, with just two leading roles over the course of the year, Mulligan handily replotted and redirected her path as one of her generation’s most talented actresses, establishing herself as a performer unafraid of movies that deliver hard-hitting messages.
In 2015, Mulligan went fully feminist with two uniquely challenging roles, and here’s hoping she doesn’t back down from them in the future.
Sarah Gavron’s historically-bent "Suffragette" may sound like the most clearly forward-thinking of Mulligan’s two 2015 offerings, but it fits in quite neatly beside Mulligan’s stunning turn in Thomas Vinterberg’s "Far From the Madding Crowd," a traditional take on the classic Thomas Hardy novel that finds new life in its passionate leading lady.
In "Suffragette," Mulligan’s Maud Watts is an amalgamation of other women who fought during the UK’s battle for voting equality in the early part of the twentieth century. Although the rest of the film is populated with real people made into suitable cinematic versions — from Meryl Streep’s Emmeline Pankhurst to Natalie Press’ Emily Davison — Maud is the creation of screenwriter Abi Morgan, who longed to fit a more common woman (Maud is a laundress when the film begins) into a feature filled with big named idols. Maud is the heart and soul of the film, and as she develops into a bold and outspoken suffragette, the audience finds themselves swept up into her still-relevant journey.
In short, of course "Suffragette," a film about the female population of one of the world’s most powerful countries fighting to be heard, is a feminist outing. It’s text, it’s the legacy of their struggle, but it’s not Mulligan’s only 2015 feature about strong-willed women battling for the right to choose.
Set in the Victorian era, Vinterberg’s "Far From the Madding Crowd" tackles Hardy’s beloved story of a woman torn between three suitors (sort of) while trying to pursue her dreams of running her very own farm. As headstrong Bathsheba Everdene — inevitably, Bathsheba is always ruled to be "headstrong," but there’s scarcely a better word for it — Mulligan must be all things to everyone: A leader, a fighter, a boss, a confidant, a lover, a friend, an inspiration, and she tackles the demanding role with style and grace.
Hardy’s work has long endured because of its careful and close dissection of the way people interact with each other (and, more precisely, how they judge each other’s individual actions), and Vinterberg’s freshening of the story remains true to its source material while injecting it with a modern twist. It’s Mulligan who delivers said modernization and freshening, making her Bathsheba a heroine for both Hardy-era women looking to break free and modern ladies searching for inspiration in enduring places. Although "Far From the Madding Crowd" works wonders when it’s going for romance, some of its most satisfying scenes feature Bathsheba struggling to make her professional life work, too, and the film’s interest in showing every facet of a complicated woman’s complicated life mark it a a modern classic with a very special point of view.
Mulligan, of course, was the perfect woman for both roles.
Indiewire has partnered with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand for February’s Indie Film Month. Enjoy exceptionally creative and uniquely entertaining new Indie releases ("Grandma," "Youth," "Room" and more) all month long on Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand. Go HERE daily for movie reviews, interviews, and exclusive footage of the suggested TWC movie of the day and catch the best Indie titles on TWC Movies On Demand.