England, 1961, is in a full post-colonial hangover. Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is sixteen and full of dreams of Paris and the wider world. She gets them for a brief time by becoming the girlfriend of an older man, David (Peter Sarsgaard). David is dashing, glamorous, good looking, and rich. How he gets his money is a bit unscrupulous, but Jenny is willing to accept it as the price for the posh life he offers. Most importantly, David charms Jenny’s unsophisticated parents, who seem hell-bent on getting her to Oxford. However, David is not around to bamboozle the authorities at Jenny’s school, who have a definite interest in her scholastic success and correctly assess David as a direct theat. In the end, Jenny is a sadder but wiser girl, definitely the recipient of An Education.
There are many things to praise in this movie, starting with the performances. It is Carey Mulligan’s film, and she carries it well, especially for one so young (she went on to star in The Great Gatsby and Shame, among others). Alfred Molina is typically delightful as Jenny’s befuddled father. Sarsgaard is perfectly cast as a man with secrets but who can convince one that he could make a girl half his age enamored of him. Emma Thompson was probably on the set less than three days, but she makes an impression as the headmistress determined to get the last laugh. Speaking of Thompson and Mulligan, their second scene together is electric. Mulligan’s Jenny gives a perfect crie de coeur of a teenager in love, and Thompson’s headmistress totally fails to connect. Also, the production design, much of it on location, is excellent. One gets a real feel for the crampedness of Jenny’s lower-middle-class home, as well as the airy environs of David’s hangout. England is gray, Paris is full of color. The setting of one of Jenny’s teachers’ homes almost tells the entire rest of the story for us. Definitely a good pick for watching with a young female person.
An Education by Lynn Barber. This memoir is an expansion of the autobiographical magazine article that the movie is based on.
One Day Director Lone Scherfig’s film about a couple who spend the night before their graduation together, and then their doings on the anniversary of that date through their lives.
Pirate Radio this comedy of a ship just outside British waters broadcasting rock ‘n’ roll to English teens (the BBC was pretty much forbidden to play it) takes place not long after An Education and gives us the beginning of Swinging London.