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Promising Young Woman: Carey Mulligan responds to apology for controversial film review

Ellie Harrison
·3-min read
Carey Mulligan in 'Promising Young Woman’ ( )
Carey Mulligan in 'Promising Young Woman’ ( )

Carey Mulligan has responded after US publication Variety apologised for its controversial review of her new film Promising Young Woman.

The review, published in January 2020, suggested that Margot Robbie would have been a better choice for the lead character in the revenge comedy-thriller.

“Mulligan, a fine actress, seems a bit of an odd choice as this admittedly many-layered apparent femme fatale,” stated critic Dennis Harvey. “Margot Robbie is a producer here, and one can (perhaps too easily) imagine the role might once have been intended for her. Whereas with this star, Cassie wears her pickup-bait gear like bad drag; even her long blonde hair seems a put-on.”

In a profile in The New York Times in December, Mulligan condemned the review, saying it implied she wasn’t “hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse”. She added that while her ego wasn’t “wounded” and she can see that “Margot Robbie is a goddess”, she found it bizarre that the review focused on her appearance given that the film aims to subvert expectations of women. “It drove me so crazy,” she said.

Variety subsequently added an editor’s note at the top of its review that reads: “Variety sincerely apologises to Carey Mulligan and regrets the insensitive language and insinuation in our review of Promising Young Woman that minimised her daring performance.”

Now, during a conversation with Zendaya for Variety’s Actors on Actors series, Mulligan has responded to the apology, saying she initially called out the publication because its criticism wasn’t “constructive”.

She said it was “disappointing” that the review bemoaned “a lack of attractiveness on my part in a character”, adding: “It made me concerned that in such a big publication, an actress’ appearance could be criticised and that could be accepted as completely reasonable criticism…

“It stuck with me, because I think it’s these kind of everyday moments that add up – that mean that we start to edit the way that women appear on screen, and we want them to look a certain way. We want to airbrush them, and we want to make them look perfect. Or we want to edit the way that they work, the way they move, and the way that they think and behave. And I think we need to see real women portrayed on screen and in all of their complexity. So I felt that it was one small thing to point out that could be helpful.”

Mulligan said she had found it “nerve-racking to rock the boat with a big publication” but that she was “really surprised and thrilled to have received an apology”.

In Promising Young Woman, for which she is receiving Oscar buzz, Mulligan portrays Cassie, a survivor of trauma who uses her sexuality in a series of revenge schemes.

It also stars Bo Burnham, Alison Brie and Laverne Cox, and is the directorial debut of actor and filmmaker Emerald Fennell, who is best known for playing Camilla Parker-Bowles on The Crown.

The film will be released in the UK later this year.

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