Lone Scherfig’s ‘An Education’ had one of the biggest buzzes surrounding it at this years’ Sundance Film Festival. Based on journalist Lynn Barber’s memoirs, with a script by Nick Hornby and plenty of media hype, expectations for this release were through the roof.
‘An Education’ is the coming-of-age story of Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a sixteen year-old Twickenham schoolgirl. Both beautiful and clever, Jenny has high hopes to be educated at the esteemed Oxford University. One day Jenny meets David (Peter Sarsgaad), a charming older man who gives her a taste of the London highlife. Jenny is soon thrown into a life of parties, fine dining, drinking, and luxurious clothes. Influenced by David’s beautiful, but vacuous friend Helen (Rosamund Pike) and reluctant playboy Danny (Dominic Cooper) Jenny is easily swept into this new world that is far away from her mundane existence of Latin homework and cello practice.
Through David’s charming ways, Jenny’s protective parents are soon under his spell, and Jenny’s perfect grades and aspirations for an Oxford education fall by the wayside. The coming-of-age story is formulaic, yet not dull, and it is inevitable that this seemingly perfect world and romance will collapse around Jenny with disastrous consequences.
Bearing in mind the recent resurgence of Beatlemania, the release of the film and its 1960s setting seems to be perfectly timed. Yet ‘An Education’ begins in pre-Beatles 1961, and Jenny is not touched by the sense of liberation and feminist spirit that is typically associated with the Swinging Sixties. In this sense, the film is a brilliant insight into the British education system of the 1960s. Yet this is not the only sense of education that the film offers its audience, as it also explores systems of class, the loss of innocence and the destruction of the idea that all parents are perfect.
Despite the wonderful script, some surprisingly amusing moments and the beautiful cinematography (especially in the Paris scenes), once the film is over there is a slightly unfinished element to it. The ending seems to wrap up events very quickly, whilst not fully explaining certain circumstances. The hurried closing scene is an anticlimax and features a voiceover by Jenny, a technique that is not used during the film until this scene.
Despite the disappointing end, the rest of the narrative and the standard of acting in this film compensate. Although the character of David could have been more charming, and Jenny a bit more naïve in order to make the central romance more believable, the performances are very engaging. With a real age of 24, Mulligan succeeds in playing the 16 year-old Jenny convincingly, yet also thrives at making Jenny appear older as her relationship with David matures. With only a few films under her belt, Mulligan has been highly praised for her role, and her performance as the ruined Jenny makes ‘An Education’ well worth watching.