- Carey Mulligan as Jenny Mellor
- Peter Sarsgaard as David Goldman
- Dominic Cooper as Danny
- Rosamund Pike as Helen
- Alfred Molina as Jack Mellor
- Cara Seymour as Marjorie Mellor
- Olivia Williams as Miss Stubbs
- Emma Thompson as Miss Walters
A delightfully rendered coming-of-age story based on a memoir by Lynn Barber, that captures its setting excellently and has both humour and seriousness in it, An Education encompasses something very charming and bittersweet.
It is 1961; Jenny Mellor is a bright, pretty and sheltered 16-year-old girl living in Twickenham, London. Her parents, mainly her pushy father Jack, are pressuring her to study hard so she can go to Oxford. Yet Jenny is restless with this and wants to experience something fun and exciting in a world that she sees as very boring. Into her life in a shiny car comes the much older David Goldman. He is a charming and cultured man who despite being almost twice her age, gives Jenny a lift home when she is caught in rain. Jenny is completely bowled over by the handsome stranger and becomes dreamy about him. As he begins to show an interest in her, Jenny’s plans for Oxford are put on hold and slide away as she immerses herself in the glamorous world that David offers, where she meets his friends partner in crime Danny and his oblivious girlfriend Helen. Yet David, while able to please everyone around him including Jenny’s parents, is clearly up to something that puzzles Jenny. It seems the journey for her is going to leave her with two choices. Is the cosmopolitan lifestyle that Jenny has become immersed in, thanks to David, really worth sacrificing a place at Oxford for? And just what will come from the relationship with David, who is clearly not all he seems?
Danish director Lone Scherfig’s largely unfussy but very personal direction explores the social mores of the time, when you can just about feel that big changes in the world are literally just around the corner. She places us in the story and we witness like Jenny, the chance of escape into something that looks so thrilling, but could very well be the opposite. The script by Nick Hornby combines humour with the burgeoning drama, in an effortless an understated manner. And while most of the exercise is very charming and apparently light, underneath it and emerging is the seriousness that rightfully connects with us as the glamorous world that we see may not be all it is cracked up to be for Jenny. Because of this, a bittersweet harmony between the fun and the moving is crafted with adroit skill and An Education soars in its evocation of this young girl’s journey that brings her both happiness and sorrow. An Education wisely sidesteps becoming overly nostalgic and mawkish, thanks to the greatness of everyone involved with the project. It is a credit to the film that the central part of Jenny falling in love with David and being taken in by him is not viewed as creepy or seedy. Sure the character of David is a little sleazy, but the relationship shared for the most part stays on the right side of curious and a little poignant, without the need to become tawdry. The representation and recreation of the early 60’s before it was swinging is beautiful in construction and really shows a glamour that is to Jenny what she has been searching for. Some of the action sags in the middle part, but is quickly redeemed by the moving examination of Jenny’s journey that captures your attention with its naturalness and believability.
The glowing and beating heart at the core of An Education is the stunning work from Carey Mulligan. She boasts something akin to Audrey Hepburn with the playfulness and innocence she projects in the part which is simply magnificent. But Mulligan also displays that Jenny is smart(sometimes a little too smart for her own good) and clearly no fool, she just craves a sense of something extraordinary which I’m sure even now is something that a lot of teenagers can relate to. Jenny just wants some fun and adventure in her life so it isn’t really surprising that she is so taken in by David and the glamorous life he leads her into. Carey Mulligan sells everything about the character so subtly and beautifully that even when the character of Jenny is making decisions that in the long run may be bad, we can see why she is doing it and the reasoning. This was a star making performance from Carey Mulligan, who since this film has become one of my favourite and most reliable actresses. Surrounding Mulligan is an outstandingly assembled cast of greats who contribute something to each of their respective parts. Peter Sarsgaard strikes the right balance of smooth talking sophistication and a lingering sense of darkness, though like Jenny the effectiveness of the performance lies in how he takes people over, not least the audience. Dominic Cooper plays David’s right hand man, who while still a charmer offers Jenny support and foreshadows what David may truly be like. Rosamund Pike is a hoot as the fashion plate bimbo with all the eye rolling and hysterical lines to match. Case in point after hearing that Jenny scored a B on her Latin exam, she exclaims ” Someone told me that in about 50 years, no one will speak Latin, probably. Not even Latin people.” It is amusing comic gold to watch. The always good Alfred Molina turns in a finely tuned performance as Jenny’s domineering, penny-pinching father, who is actually just looking out for his daughter’s needs. He is both an amusing and melancholy character, who wants to be there for his daughter yet due to his old-fashioned attitudes is puzzled by her at the same time. Cara Seymour ably supports Molina as his wife, who is always trying to quell disagreements in her household. Olivia Williams is on hand for a moving delivery as the inspiring schoolteacher who gives Jenny some very strong advice in helping decide her future. Emma Thompson has a ball with her small role as the disapproving headmistress, who doesn’t take too kindly to Jenny’s plans to leave school for an older man.
A charming but very observant picture of teenage curiosity and the heart versus the head, An Education provides a well mounted picture of a certain time and a beautiful performance from Carey Mulligan.