Hard lessons are learned and a star is born in the cautionary drama, An Education.
Based on the memoir by Lynn Barber, An Education marks the latest retelling of the British journalist’s adolescent years: first was an essay; followed by a book; now a feature film.
Adapted by novelist/screenwriter Nick Hornsby, and directed by Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig, An Education is not only a fine biography, but it is also an absorbing recreation of pre-swinger 1960s middle class Britain, and the casual sexism, racism, and anti-Semitism it contained.
But more notably, this film has provided the platform for a breakout performance from one of the most promising actresses working today, in the last billed yet never forgotten Carey Mulligan.
She plays Barber’s on screen alter ego Jenny, an Oxford bound, grade A student, whose intelligence is matched by a rebellious streak which tests the patience of her parents, played wonderfully by Alfred Molina & Cara Seymour, the former appropriately portrayed as obsessive and grumpy.
With a desire to enrol in the “university of life”, Jenny looks for fun in every opportunity, and finds it in the form of a much older gentlemen caller named David.
Astutely cast in that role is Peter Sarsgaard, a long time American character actor who just may have snagged his first Oscar nomination as the irresistibly charming suitor, who even manages to win over Molina’s over protective father.
As the ever impressionable Jenny allows herself to be swept away from her boring suburban confines, lost in fine art and fine dining adventures with David and his friends (played by Dominic Cooper and a scene stealing Rosamund Pike), David’s true character comes to the forefront and tests Jenny moral fibre.
Concern for Jenny comes from various directions, especially at her high school: headmistress Emma Thompson worries about Jenny’s standing as a “lady”; English teacher Olivia Williams concern is that Jenny stand up and be counted as a woman.
This brings us back to the sexism of that time, especially in terms of the limited opportunities amongst most women who achieve academic excellence, only to find themselves play servitude to a husband.
Jenny’s idea of liberation is to shun the education process all together, and leap straight forward into matrimony of a different kind. After all, if all of those long nights of studying will offer nothing more than obligation to a future husband, might as well skip the process and marry someone who can afford luxuries beyond the middle class, right?
Well, no, and that is exactly the point: An Education is not a coming of age story, but rather a coming down from your high horse cautionary fable. Jenny is beyond her years in terms of intelligence, but that does not make her immune to the warmth of love, the comfort of wealth, and the treachery of deceit.
Humility, that most educational of human qualities, is earned and wisdom is gained, making An Education not only an entertaining picture, but an enlightening one as well.