This movie was one of the best stories I’ve seen in a movie in a while. “An Education” was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars this year and was directed by Lone Scherfig based on a memoir by Lynn Barber and adapted for the screen by writer, Nick Hornby who wrote “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy”. Hornby’s story-telling skills are tip-top and it showed here in this coming-of-age story of a young woman in the 1960s trying to get into Oxford University when her life changes with the distraction of an older man and his free-spirited life of concerts, art, and trips to Paris.
Carey Mulligan was nominated for Best Actress for her role as Jenny and she deserves it. She has all the charm and energy of a young Audrey Hepburn and even styles her hair like her. (Coincidentally, I just noticed on IMDB that Mulligan is slated to be Eliza Doolittle in a remake of “My Fair Lady” for 2012!) Mulligan is so easy to empathize with as Jenny and really wears her heart on her sleeve. It reminds me in some ways of another story, “Sabrina” which the older version ALSO had Audrey Hepburn. She seems to embody that youthful spirit with a depth of maturity that is just a pleasure to watch.
Besides looks, Jenny is fiercely clever and curious about all manner of things French and is eager to learn anything she can about the lifestyle. Jenny’s upbringing by her parents played by Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour stresses the importance of study and a good education, hence her goal of Oxford. But women are not taken seriously in this time and even if you study, you might end up as a teacher or in some public service role. Schooling is just another venue to finding an ideal mate to support you the rest of your life. The very idea is frustrating to Jenny when she is so intensely intelligent, but even her women’s liberation attitude can be swept away by Peter Sarsgaard’s charm.
David played by Peter Sarsgaard is something of a playboy who plays very hard all the time and sweeps Jenny into his world of exciting auctions, racetracks, and clubs. David has a way with words and delivery that seems to make everyone including Jenny’s parents eat out of the palm of his hand.
David’s clever words do not last forever as Jenny starts to uncover some secrets about him he was not forthcoming with. Sarsgaard’s English accent is deceptively good for someone born in Illinois. It has a very light touch so that it is harder to catch any flubs but seems quiet natural. At first the age difference seems a bit creepy but what wins the audience over into belief is not Sarsgaard’s performance by Mulligan’s commitment to the mutual attraction.
David hangs out with another couple – Danny and Helen played by Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike. Rosamund Pike is delightful as the opposite of everything Jenny is but the foreshadowing of everything she could become if she changed her path. Helen is a ditzy-type mainly in the group for her attractiveness but prone to making flighty statements like, “No one will be speaking Latin in five years, not even Latin people.” She makes it completely believable that someone could be content with their low level of knowledge and just play and be arm candy. Her example is the only way for Jenny’s character to really make comparisons and decisions about whom she wants to be.
I also have to mention the lovely Emma Thompson whom I adore made an appearance as a strict head mistress of Jenny’s school who gives a realistic portrayal of the arguments put into motion about the education process. Also Olivia Williams as Miss Stubbs gives another fantastic performance as a teacher who is disillusioned with the education process short of the few brilliant students like Jenny who make it worthwhile again.
I can’t express properly would an enjoyable story this was and what a great journey. Women did not have as many options in those days as we do now and seeing the comparisons is awakening. This is the best and most subtle romance story that I saw from 2009 as well in a time when everything is a rom-com or a Nicholas Sparks overboard of tears, this one blends the romance with the story of a young woman’s search for identity and deciding her future. I highly recommend this to anyone who hasn’t seen it.