Glowing reviews are nothing new to English rose Carey Mulligan. The star of “An Education,” damsel in distress of “Drive” and Daisy Buchanan of the recent “Great Gatsby” is used to the sort of notices she’s earning for her turn as Bathsheba Everdene in the film of Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd.” Her Bathsheba is “intense, compelling and modern” David Sexton raved in This is London, with Variety’s Scott Foundas finding “an appealing wistfulness” in Mulligan’s interpretation of the 19th century heroine.
But Mulligan as “the face of 21st century British feminism,” as proclaimed by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, thanks to her turns as Bathsheba and as one of the title characters in the upcoming “Suffragette”? That’s a new one.
“Would Bathsheba have been a suffragette?” Mulligan wonders, connecting her 1870s plucky, reluctant-to-marry farm woman with the women who fought for the vote in early 20th century Britain and America. “That conversation was really getting started in Bathsheba’s day. Perhaps not in rural life, but in London, women were talking about getting the vote.
“But it’s just incredible good luck getting two roles like this, back to back. That other stuff? ‘Face of feminism?’ No idea. I am genuinely excited at having the chance to be a part of films that put more women on screen in more complex characters than we’re typically offered.”
Mulligan turns 30 at the end of May, but already has a fairly illustrious career under her belt. Fair skinned and daintily feminine, with a voice that suggests there’s metal beneath that soft exterior, she’s been most at home in period pieces — Dickens (“Bleak House”) and Jane Austen adaptations for TV (“Pride & Prejudice”, “Northanger Abbey”), Chekhov (“The Seagull”) on stage, Fitzgerald (“Gatsby”) and others (“An Education”, “Inside Llewyn Davis”) on screen.
Thomas Hardy, best known for the romantic/tragic 19th century novels “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, “The Mayor of Casterbridge” and “Far From the Madding Crowd,” seems right up her alley.
“For a heroine written by a male writer 150 years ago she’s an incredibly well-drawn female character,” Mulligan says. “Modern, foreward thinking. But I don’t think Bathsheba’s aware of it. She’s not precocious about it. She’s just the way she is, sees the world through these no nonsense, matter-of-fact eyes. That’s her greatest quality and her biggest downfall, how open she is to the world. She hasn’t decided how she feels about anything, and she’s not inclined to let others make her mind up for her.”
Mulligan was drawn to a post-Austen heroine who “turns down an offer of marriage, right in the first scenes,” she says. “She’s not going out into the world LOOKING for marriage at the age of 18. Very UN-Austen, in that way.”
Hardy’s character’s name — “Bathsheba” — chosen from a Biblical temptress, is also unlike anyone you’d encounter in Austenland.
“She’s not the same as other girls of her era, but she’s not some Biblical seductress type. Even in the book, she’s not like that.
But she is, more than anything, vain, and she’s aware of her effect on people.”
In the book and the film, men are so smitten as to propose marriage, almost from the moment they meet Bathsheba.
And there’s one last characteristic to Bathsheba that Mulligan found “un-Austen” — those early scenes that show the wispy Mulligan out in the fields, helping an aunt grub up potatoes. She laughs at being teased about this incongruous image.
“The best piece of advice I was ever given was to ‘trust your casting.’ If they’ve cast you, you’re right for the part. If they’re not, all you can do is try your best. It’s not my responsibility to decide whether or not I’m suited to a part. It’s theirs. Their decision.
“If I’m seen as this dainty little thing, they’re just basing that on some earlier character I’ve played. I guess my job, on meeting the filmmakers, is to prove that I do something. I haven’t got a certificate from anywhere saying that I can ride a horse or use a hoe or do anything that a particular character knows how to do. But I always feel a particular duty to prove myself by not repeating myself. And I certainly didn’t do that here.”
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