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Sunday, 1 November 2009

Film – An Education – directed by Lone Scherfig

Star rating – 8/10

This 1960’s coming of age tale is based on the memoirs of Lynn Barber, and contains wonderful screenplay from Nick Hornby. Barber’s experiences are roughly translated into the character of Jenny, a plucky 16 year old girl brilliantly played by Carey Mulligan, who has been hotly tipped for a successful and sparkling career largely on the back of this film.

Jenny is intelligent and enquiring. She excels at school and is being groomed for an Oxford education by her middle class parents, in their desperate wish for her to succeed. The stifling atmosphere of her home and family is very evident. They are not themselves university educated or even remotely intellectual, but are desperate for their young daughter to do better. But Jenny wants more, she often escapes by listening to Juliette Gréco records in her bedroom instead of doing her homework.

The frustrations of young women in the early 60’s are all too evident here. The main purpose of their education seems to be a back up in case they don’t meet a rich successful man to marry. Studying is a passport to being able to support themselves by teaching, or even entering the civil service, if the worst happens and they fail to bag a husband. Jenny is clearly not happy with this prospect.

In steps David (Peter Sarsgaard), the dashing older man with a sports car and a one way ticket for Jenny to enter another world of culture, concerts and excitement. It is obvious why Jenny is attracted to this prospect, but what is not so obvious is why her parents are also totally won over by the charming David, and allow their underage daughter to run about town with this much older man, neglecting her precious studies on the way. Very poor judgement on their part.

This is unarguably a star studded cast – Emma Thompson as the head teacher who Jenny very definitely does not want as a role model; Alfred Molina as her gullible father; Dominic Cooper as David’s best friend and partner in extremely dodgy dealings Danny. The best of these is played wonderfully by Rosamund Pike as Danny’s girlfriend Helen, who sparkles as a beautiful girl with no brains who is happy to have a good time and readily befriends Jenny. Pike’s sense of comedy for the role is a nice touch, and pitched exactly right.

Of course the romance does not run smoothly, and Mulligan excels at showing Jenny’s young but feisty and determined character dealing with the experience and the fallout. The period detail in the film is absolutely authentic, and adds to the fine feel of the piece. It is a very enjoyable film, based on a story which , if you did not know was largely true, would seem a tad far fetched. And Mulligan deserves all the warm praise she will undoubtedly get for bringing Jenny to life so wonderfully as a rounded character, eager for life but still with a lot to learn.

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