Tuesday, 20 October 2009


Now Showing
Paramount Pictures

Coming-of-age films from the female perspective are seemingly not as common as their male counterparts, but rarely is either gender afforded a vehicle committed with the grace and humour of An Education.

Based on a very slim memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber, and adapted, surprisingly, by very male novelist Nick Hornby, author of Fever Pitch and About A Boy, Danish director Lone Scherfig has captured a very specific time and place – early 1960s London before it swang and just before The Beatles launched – and a star-making performance by Carey Mulligan.

Mulligan is Jenny, 16 years old and living in the London suburbs with her parents, an acquiescent mum (Cara Seymour) and a penny-pinching, infuriatingly misguided dad (a wonderful comic turn by Alfred Molina), whose insistence that Jenny achieve high grades so as to attend Oxford is the only thing they agree on; for him it is to improve their social standing, for Jenny it is a means to escape.

Like most teens, Jenny, who smokes with her friends, speaks French and dreams big dreams, believes she is smarter than the adults in her life and is going to go places and do things. And then she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard) - in a wonderful scene involving a car, a cello and some rain - an older man who has been places and done things and offers these opportunities to her. David takes her to concerts, supper clubs and auctions. He even manages to take her away for a weekend in Oxford for Jenny is not the only one seduced by this man.

Of course nothing is as it seems and anything too good to be true usually proves to be so and as Jenny’s grades slip, her eyes are opened all too late. Her education will come at a price but at film’s end we know she’ll be all the better for it.

I’ve seen An Education twice now, and loved it just as much the second time. I’m surprised how my first reaction to David changed with the second viewing. I’m also impressed with how Olivia Williams, as Jenny’s English teacher, and Emma Thompson, as the headmistress, make full-blooded people out of two small supporting roles.

But want didn’t change for me, but was merely reinforced, was the wonderful performance by Carey Mulligan. This little known (but not for much longer) British actress, 24 yet effortlessly passing for 16, seizes the opportunity afforded her and runs with it – all the way to next year’s Oscars I, and most pundits, predict. The film rests on her shoulders and she bears the burden gracefully. Jenny’s judgement may falter but Mulligan’s never does.

With an expanded list of 10 Best Picture nominees, An Education has a good chance of securing a BP nomination, and deservedly so. And in what is proving to be a good year for women directors, Lone Scherfig could also secure a nod. But don’t wait for those announcements in February 2010: An Education opens this week and you’d be the class clown not to seek it out now.

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