An Education is a gem of a movie. Based on a memoir by Lynn Barber, the film takes place in 1961 London, certainly a more innocent time. It tells the story of Jenny, a gifted 16 year old working class schoolgirl who is swept off her feet by a dashing older man, David. One rainy afternoon, David (who looks to be in his 30’s) offers Jenny a lift home in his expensive car. Soon after, David begins to invite Jenny to concerts and jazz clubs with his friends, Danny and Helen. Never having been exposed to such a world as David’s, Jenny falls for him and his lifestyle. David even manages to charm Jenny’s parents as well.
Seeing the story from our current perspective, having dealt with the unfortunate experience of sexual misconduct, there are several indications that David is not to be trusted. In order to get Jenny’s parents to allow her to accompany him to Oxford, David lies to them about his friendship with C.S. Lewis, and encourages Jenny to do the same. David’s business practices are shady, to say the least. David showers Jenny with expensive presents, takes her to Paris for the weekend, and finally proposes to her. Infatuated with David and his glamorous lifestyle, Jenny’s grades begin to suffer, and her plans to attend Oxford are suddenly in question. A concerned teacher, Miss Stubbs, tries to bring Jenny back to reality, with little success. Jenny ridicules Miss Stubbs for being ordinary.
Young Carey Mulligan, a Golden Globe and probable Oscar nominee, gives a fine performance as Jenny, innocent and completely enamored by the dashing, sophisticated David. She is the giggling girl, exposed to a world she never imagined, who learns a difficult lesson about life and love. Peter Sarsgaard is great as the seductive David. The excellent cast includes Alfred Molina as Jenny’s father, Olivia Williams as Miss Stubbs, and Emma Thompson as an unforgiving, anti-Semitic headmistress.
The pleasure of An Education lies in its excellent screenplay by Nick Hornsby, directed by Lone Scherfig, which transports the viewer completely into Jenny’s world, so different from our own. Characters are rich, but all flawed to some extent. In addition to David, his friends know what is happening, but do nothing to stop it. In a moving scene, Jenny’s father apologizes for not doing all he could to protect her from the hurt she suffered. The headmistress is critical of Jenny’s relationship with David, mainly because he is Jewish. Yet, despite their flaws, they are all human, even David.
Now that the big budget holiday releases are in theaters, An Education will probably disappear from screens soon. Hopefully, it will reappear on DVD before long. Whether on the big screen or small, this sensitive, well made drama of a girl’s lost innocence is definitely worth seeing. It may also be instructive for a discussion about inappropriate behavior between an adult and teenage child.
Tom Condon, OP