An Education

Jenny Miller, played by Carey Mulligan is a precocious 16 year old English school girl  in 1960’s London. She’s in her last year of secondary schooling and is desperate to get into Oxford to study English. Not as desperate as her father, Jack, played by the great Alfred Molina, however. Jack has figured out all the angles to get her in and is constantly nagging her to study Latin (her weakest subject) and to take up the cello as an impressive hobby, but not to practice it too much, but to still stay in youth orchestra. Jenny takes these contradictory mandates in good humor but deep down, she is bored. She’s finds boys her own age to be either hopelessly awkward or immature, and she is starting to wonder why she works so hard to go to college so she can become a teacher or work in the civil service. She’s interested in art, film and music, things her prosaic parents would never understand, much less encourage. Jenny is yearning for broader horizons.

So when David, played by Peter Sarsgaard, who is twice her age, enters her life and starts taking her to jazz clubs, concerts and Paris, Jenny’s head is turned. She finds herself willing to throw away all her opportunities in order to have the exciting life that she dreams of right away. But of course it’s not real and David is not what he seems.

The seduction and betrayal of a young innocent girl seems like the plot of one of the eighteenth century novels that Jenny studies in school, but fortunately we are not in Thomas Hardy territory here. This is a lot lighter fare. In fact, although he is a skilled seducer, David does not always have the upper hand the relationship. Jenny is definitely smarter than he is and in some ways a lot more sophisticated despite her constricted upbringing.

The script by Nick Hornby is funny and moves the action along pretty quickly. Lone Sherfig’s direction perfectly complements it, although there are a couple of continuity problems where it’s raining one minute and the sun’s shining the next. I don’t usually notice those sorts of things unless there are really distracting.

Carey Mulligan is the real treat here. She delivers Hornby’s smart sarcastic lines perfectly. She’s so young and yet so smart that she is a willing accomplice in her own seduction and much more interesting than a clueless ingenue from another century. I hope she gets lots of work in the future.

Alfred Molina is terrific as the father, who is scared to venture much beyond the confines of their London suburb. Even in the early scenes where he is dictating to his daughter what she is going to do with her life, you can see his vulnerability.  Molina is a great actor and this is definitely on list of his best performances.

Peter Sarsgaard also turns in a great performance as a seeming man of the world who reveals himself to be something of an innocent himself in the end. Every moment of this transformation is believable and authentic. All the performances are terrific, from Emma Thompson as the disapproving headmistress of the school to Sally Hawkins in a role I can’t tell you about because I’d give away too much of the plot.

An Education is based on a memoir from famed British journalist Lynn Barber. So this is inspired by a true story. Obviously, she did overcome her times and her upbringing to live the life she wanted, a much better ending than what Thomas Hardy would have come up with.



2 Responses to “An Education”

  1. 1 RC of StrangeCulture November 22, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    I agree, Carey Mulligan’s delivery of Hornby’s lines is fantastic!!!

  2. 2 catlover November 23, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    I’m so glad to see all this glowing praise for Alfred Molina. He is a wonderful actor who has been passed over by the Academy previously. He deserves his award.

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