Actress appreciation: From the underrated to the legends

Kate Dunkerton celebrates the most important actresses of the film industry.

Kate Dunkerton
28th February 2020
Image: IMDB
It’s time to show appreciation for some of the actresses who have graced our screens, with some rightfully deserving their critical acclaim and others who deserve more of it. Whilst much attention has been focused on younger talent, such as Saoirse Ronan, and acting legends such as Meryl Streep, let’s appreciate those who have been able to step out of their shadow.

Carey Mulligan

First up is British actress Carey Mulligan. When thinking back to some of her roles, it is surprising she has only managed to scrape one Academy Award nomination during her film career. Making her film debut in Joe Wright’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (2005) as Kitty Bennet, one of heroine Elizabeth Bennet’s (Keira Knightley) idiotic younger sisters, Mulligan solidified her penchant for period dramas, starring in multiple supporting roles over the next few years.

It was Mulligan who received the most praise for her performance

It was not until 2009 that Mulligan solidified her status as a leading lady in the coming-of-age drama An Education. Directed by Lone Scherfig and written by Nick Hornby, the film set in 1960s London follows Mulligan as sixth form student Jenny as she falls for an older con-man (Peter Sarsgaard), jeopardising her dream of attending Oxford University. Receiving universal acclaim and acknowledgment from the Academy Awards and BAFTAs, it was Mulligan who received the most praise for her performance as a naïve schoolgirl desperate to grow up, walking away with the BAFTA for Best Actress. As an audience member, we get both frustrated and sympathetic towards Mulligan’s character. She wants to break away from the restrictions and pressure from school and her parents for an adventurous life, yet appears to throw away her intelligence for a man.

Following the commercial failure of Never Let Me Go (2010), Mulligan managed to turn her film career back around with an acclaimed performance in thriller Drive (2011). Although a supporting role, Mulligan is captivating as a neglected wife and mother whose issues with her husband sets off the chain of events which must be solved by Ryan Gosling’s character, a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. Like with An Education, Mulligan’s performance was met with rave reviews, garnering her second BAFTA nomination for best supporting actress. Despite its acclaim, Drive received little attention from the Academy, presumably because of the excessive violence and nature of the film, failing to nominate Mulligan for the supporting actress category even if she deserved to be there.

Mulligan will next star in Promising Young Woman (2020), inspired by the #MeToo Movement, which will follow Mulligan as she gets revenge on men who attempt to sexually assault women.

Emma Stone

Moving across the pond, an obvious choice has to be Emma Stone. Beginning her film career in comedies such as Superbad (2007) and Zombieland (2009), it was her leading performance in Easy A (2010) which put Stone on the map as one of the most promising actresses in Hollywood. Her role as Olive, a teen caught in a sex scandal after fake rumours spread around school, demonstrated her knack for comedy and quick-witted humour.

This followed with one of the most underrated rom-coms of the decade: Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011). Featuring an ensemble cast including Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore, the film marked Stone’s first collaboration of three with co-star Ryan Gosling, whose relationship and chemistry is noted as one of the highlights of the film. Breaking away from being typecast as a love interest, Stone also proved her flare for dramatics as Skeeter Phelan in The Help (2011). Set in 1960s Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement, Stone’s portrayal of a white woman who writes a book on the lives of African-American maids is one of her most memorable, exposing the racial prejudice suffered by the maids by giving them a voice.

She showcased her ability to act, dance and sing simultaneously

After the failure of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, Stone secured her first Academy Award nomination portraying a recovering-addict in the highly acclaimed drama Birdman (2014). Although not a fan, I could still appreciate Stone’s performance as one of the most enjoyable parts of the film as she struggles with her recovery and her complicated relationship with her father (Michael Keaton). However, there is one performance which will always stand out in Stone’s filmography: Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (2016). Although the film was mistakenly named Best Picture in an iconic moment at the Academy Awards in 2017, it was still very much Stone’s night as she deservedly took the coveted Best Actress prize. Her endearing performance as Mia, a struggling actress in Hollywood whilst juggling a relationship with jazz-pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), captured the attention of many as she showcased her ability to act, dance and sing simultaneously, reminiscent of the old Hollywood musicals it was inspired by.

Florence Pugh

Fresh off her success with Greta Gerwig’s rendition of Little Women (2019), 2020 is proving to be Florence Pugh’s year, quickly becoming one of the most talked about new talent. Although many are focusing on her original take on the usually dislikeable Amy March, Pugh’s previous roles should not be disregarded, specifically in Stephen Merchant’s comedy-drama Fighting with my Family (2019). Based on the true story of the Knight family, Pugh portrays tomboy Saraya, aka “Paige”, as she stops at nothing to join the WWE, encouraged by her parents portrayed by Nick Frost and Lena Headey. Pugh’s performance is far from her demure one in Little Women, packing an emotional punch as she struggles to fit in while training for the WWE in America. It is the obstacles she must overcome which make her victory all the more moving as we root for her to succeed.

Pugh has also impressed critics with her harrowing performance in horror Midsommar (2019), revolving around a group who become involved with a pagan cult in Sweden. She can be seen next in the long-overdue Black Widow (2020).

Mulligan, Stone and Pugh prove that they can hold their own against big names in the industry, becoming stars through their ability to carry a film, which is more often than not praised by critics and fans alike.

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