An Education

This post was originally posted on 31st October, 2009.
Tonight, we went to watch the terrific An Education, starring Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard. The film was adapted by Nick Hornby from Lynn Barber’s memoir, originally published in Granta (maybe one day someone will adapt a piece from Cha into a major motion picture?). The film is beautifully shot, and it is surefootedly directed by Lone Scherfig.
An Education, which is set in the early 1960s before sex was invented, as Philip Larkin has it, centres on the seduction of the sixteen-year-old Jenny (Mulligan) by the older and charming David (Sarsgaard). Jenny lives in a dull suburb where she is studying to go to Oxford University. Desperate to see the world beyond her narrow life, she readily submits to David’s advances. David introduces her to a sophisticated world of restaurants, art auctions and jazz clubs. The man turns out to be a fraud, a kind of conman, but he is likable, kind and worldly. He manages not only to seduce the girl, but also her parents, who allow her to go to Paris with him. Although Jenny’s future is put in jeopardy by David, she ultimately learns an important lesson.
The movie could have ended up being a dreary period piece but Hornby’s script is insightful and very funny. Alfred Molina who plays Jenny’s father gets a number of great lines and he makes the most of them. The scenes between David and Jenny’s parents are hilarious. The relationship between David and Jenny is also complicated enough to prevent the story from being a simple tale of predator and victim. David is immoral but also sympathetic. And Jenny, who although naive, knowingly allows herself to be taken in by the older man as it provides her the opportunity to broaden her horizons.
The performances are all strong (even Dominic Cooper, who plays David’s friend, redeems himself from his previous dreadful performance in the National’s Phèdre.) Mulligan is being hyped for a well-deserved Oscar nod. In the film, she has the kind of plain look that is harmless but is also capable of being transformed into something more glamorous. Sarsgaard captures the character, managing to be both charming and quietly menacing. We also enjoyed the few scenes in which Emma Thompson, playing the headmistress of Jenny’s school, appears. She seemed perfectly cast for the role.
The evocation of time and place in An Education is top drawer. The details of the time are recreated convincingly and the cinematography is very lovely. Finally, or should I say, firstly, the opening credit sequence is intelligent and entertaining. The artwork from the credits blended nicely into the actual film as the story began. All in all, terrific entertainment.
4 Responses “An Education” →
E
November 1, 2009
i look forward to seeing this!
Irene
November 5, 2009
Now I think about it – I flipped through this book in the Edinburgh Book Festival last summer! Not sure if it’ll be shown in HK though! http://living.scotsman.com/bookreviews/Book-review-An-Education-by.5445989.jp
November 8, 2009
What knocked me over about this movie was how mixed up my emotions/reactions were to the romance between the two leads, such a hodgepodge blend of disgust and excitement, understanding and judgment. To so effectively portray this kind of moral ambiguity, or rather, to make the immoral at least somewhat ambiguous is a feat in itself, not to mention how beautifully the director paints the era, place, and then of course the performances.
And I’m just getting started. That’s how much I liked this film. I’ll be seeing it again. Soon!
Torsten
November 12, 2009
A good review and an even better movie; I only got around to seeing it last night and I was captivated right from the start. While I have a few minor criticisms (such as Alfred Molina’s character starting out to be too much of a cliché at first), the movie overcomes all of them (for instance with the lovely scene where Jenny’s dad brings her the cookies and reflects about life). Thanks for encouraging me to go!

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