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An Educational Experience

Written by: Tom Hardej, Special to CC2K

It may be derivative, but An Education delivers.

ImageThere’s a scene towards the end of An Education where Jenny played by Carey Mulligan, says, “silly school girls are always being charmed by older gentlemen–what’s your excuse? She’s talking to her parents, but she could have just as easily been talking to the audience, and it speaks directly at the issue I was expecting to have with the film before I even saw it. There are so many stories out there about older men and young girls (and I saw it before Roman Polanski’s story came back into the forefront). Does there really need to be another one?

The answer is no. But, An Education, starting right from the opening credits, is full of so much joy, that I’m willing to let it pass. The acting, the writing, the cinematography, and just the general vibe of the movie are so topnotch, that it’s easy to ignore that it’s basically a story we’ve seen before, albeit one told in an interesting way.

The screenplay was written by Nick Hornby, who is best known for his novels High Fidelity and About a Boy. This, his first screenplay, is an adaptation of part of a memoir by Lynn Barber, a journalist in England known for being harsh on her interviewees. But this story takes place fifty years ago when she was finishing school and focused on heading to Oxford…

…Until she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard). He’s older than her, of course, probably in his thirties, and he makes a sparkle appear in Jenny’s eyes. He loves music and art and he has fancy friends and they all smoke and drink and get dressed up to go out on the town. David and his associate, played by Dominic Cooper, are self-made men. They don’t have Oxford educations or any, and yet they live the life that Jenny’s always dreamed of. And like I said, he even charms her parents (her dad played by Alfred Molina at his best), who don’t know, as Jenny finds out, that David has gotten his money from doing some shady, and probably illegal things. Even so she’s right to wonder if Oxford is really worth it. London is at when things were quieter, simpler than the London of the past we sometimes picture, and she doesn’t have a lot of options. Why not go to horse races and wear pretty dresses and listen to jazz music every night. It’s better than becoming a school teacher, isn’t it?

Now, I didn’t love the movie as much as I wanted to and as much a lot of other people have, but watching it is a lovely experience, from the music, to the costumes, to the impeccable dialogue, and mostly due to the endearing presences of Carey Mulligan. This is her first leading role, and you can’t take your eyes off her. (She’s in every scene, so that helps, of course.) She’s going to be a big star after this. There’s no doubt about it. She goes toe-to-toe with Alfred Molina and Emma Thompson (who plays the headmistress at Jenny’s school) and more than holds her own. The movie really belongs to Mulligan, as it should. Whether she decides to go to Oxford or not becomes kind of inconsequential at some point. It’s just kind of wonderful watching Mulligan and Jenny and I think I would have been for whichever decision she made in the end. She makes you believe that no matter what she does she’ll succeed, with or without her affair with the older gentleman.