Watching the recently released “Maestro,” I was amazed at Bradley Cooper’s complete transformation into the legendary Leonard Bernstein. It was uncanny, and I knew I was witnessing an Oscar-worthy performance for the ages. 

This is not to suggest that Cooper walks away with the film. The simple reason: his co-star is Carey Mulligan, whose poignant portrayal of Bernstein’s long-suffering wife Felicia is every bit as memorable.

In 1985, Mulligan was born into a family of educated professionals in London (her mother a lecturer, her father in the hotel business), who years later discouraged the idea of their teenage daughter pursuing an acting career instead of going to university — hardly the first loving parents to do so.

She was first drawn to the stage watching her older brother perform in a school production. The itch never left her, turning into full-blown determination after she attended a Kenneth Branagh play at age 16.

She promptly wrote Branagh a fan letter, saying she was intent on an acting career. The British theater community being relatively small and tight knit, she actually received a reply via his sister: “If you feel you absolutely must, you should become an actress.” 

Soon after she met writer/producer Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park,” “Downton Abbey”) and told him of her aspirations. Supposedly, Fellowes initially advised her to “marry a lawyer” instead. 

Once he realized she was serious, he invited her to his home for a networking event. There she met a casting agent who secured her an audition for one of the younger Bennet sisters in the feature remake of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” She got the part. 

Building up more quality stage and TV credits over the next four years, Mulligan finally broke through as a film star in 2009, netting a Best Actress Oscar nod for her first leading role in “An Education.” A slew of memorable performances followed. 

My five favorite Carey Mulligan films are listed below. I know I’ll be adding to this list over time. Now won’t that be fun?

An Education (2009)

In early sixties London, Jenny (Mulligan) is a bright, dutiful sixteen-year old hungry for new experiences. She meets suave charmer David (Peter Sarsgaard), who’s twice her age, and falls for him and his posh friends. But all that glitters…Nick Hornsby’s sharp script, ace performances, and pungent sixties flavor make this “Education” well worth pursuing.

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Drive (2011)

Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a stuntman who supplements his income as a getaway driver on big heists. He quietly falls for next-door neighbor Irene (Mulligan), a young mother married to shifty ex-con Standard (Oscar Isaac). Driver and Standard then team up for a daring score. Tense action film boasts a powerhouse cast, including Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston. 

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Mudbound (2017)

Drama portrays two families- one white, one black- that settle on the same Mississippi farmland after World War 2. Mulligan’s Laura McAllan is a bright woman out of place in her surroundings. Among a solid cast, singer Mary J. Blige scores as Florence Jackson, along with Jonathan Banks as Laura’s racist father-in-law. “Mudbound” is well worth sinking into.

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The Dig (2021)

Fact-based tale, set in late 1930s Suffolk, England on the eve of war, concerns upper-crust widow Edith Pretty (Mulligan) who wants to know what’s buried on her estate, and hires local archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to find out. Unaccountably, this scenic, elegant period film was overlooked at the Oscars, but received five BAFTAs nods, including best picture.

Find out where to watch.

Maestro (2023)

Mulligan plays Felicia Montealegre, noted actress but more famously, the loving, long-suffering wife of composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper, who also directs). Though Cooper has the showier role as the egocentric, closeted Bernstein, Carey nearly steals the film out from under him. The whole production’s a triumph. Bravo, Maestro!

Find out where to watch.

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