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An Education (Review)

An Education (Review)

A British coming of age, via Paris with a soundtrack of jazz.
Oct 22, 2009
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An Education
Genre: Drama Release Date: 22/10/2009 Runtime: 100 minutes Country: UK, USA


Director:  Lone Scherfig Writer(s): 
Lynn Barber

Nick Hornby

Cast: , Cara Seymour, Carey Mulligan, Connor Catchpole, Olivia Williams, William Melling
An Education (Review), reviewed by Rebecca Mery on 2009-10-22T02:38:22+00:00 rating 4.0 out of5

In Lone Scherfig’s coming-of-age film An Education, Jenny (newcomer Carey Mulligan) is an exceptionally bright schoolgirl in 1960s London with a penchant for all things French. She is swept off into a world of art and intellectual conversation by the ever charming David (Peter Sarsgaard). Away from her parents Majorie and Jack (Cara Seymour and Alfred Molina), who never seem to leave the confines of their middle class suburban home, Jenny is suddenly thrust into the world she had been longing for, a world of colour and vibrancy and people with taste as interesting as her own. David introduces her to his friends Helen (a scene-stealing Rosamund Pike) and Danny (Dominic Cooper), takes her dancing, to concerts, takes her on weekends trips to the country. However, not all is as it seems in the world of David and his classy companions, and Jenny soon has to make some difficult decisions and face some difficult truths.

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It’s testament to screenwriter Nick Hornby (my eyes lit up as I saw his name in the opening credits) that Jenny isn’t completely overwhelmed by the sparkling, alien world she encounters. She holds her own in conversations of art and film, she speaks fluent French, she puts her foot down and refuses to be deflowered until her seventeenth birthday. Jenny has a quick wit, which I was certainly grateful for – I believe protagonist made of lesser stuff would have fast grown tiresome over the film’s running time. In addition to this, I applaud Carey Mulligan for a really charming performance as Jenny, bringing equal amounts of balls as wide-eyed innocence along with her adorable dimples. (How strange it was though, to see her with short hair and looking decidedly older than seventeen during the Q&A session after the screening!)

Peter Sarsgaard (a personal favourite, I won’t try to deny it) is wonderfully charming, and seems to be utterly at home in the role of an intellectual party-goer and lover of the arts. So too, is the darker side of David completely believable…not as a plot point, but as a real human flaw in someone who seemed so unflappable and too good to be true. David could have trod the line of being a villain at times (although there’s not much of that I can expand on without some major spoilers), yet Sarsgaard’s portrayal is sadder and truer than to let that eventuate. The rest of the cast too, were similarly well-cast and enjoyable to watch. Alfred Molina visibly revels in the fun of playing a character like Jack. What could have easily have been a stereotypical and cliched portrayal of a father-figure is something far funnier and touching in the hands of Hornby and Molina. So too, is the ever poised and gorgeous Olivia Williams as Miss Stubbs, Jenny’s English teacher.

As a film, An Education might take a well-worn path, but it’s one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival. The dialogue snaps and crackles with a really intelligent wit. The characters are well fleshed-out, are interesting, are obviously well-liked by writer and director alike. The film made me want to go home and listen to a French record, made me want to sit outside a cafe and smoke, to go dancing, made me nostalgic for a time when all the things I saw onscreen were as new and exciting as they were to Jenny. Is that not the sign of a film with some merit worth noting?


A coming of age film that sparkles in smarts, wit, style and charm.

-This review was originally posted Aug 3, 2009.

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