Now I’m not a 16 year old girl living in the early 60s so I may have missed an important element of An Education’s story, if I have I apologise. If I have though it would make little difference to the overall impressions this film has left. Without giving too much away An Education is a very well made British film that is an example of the sort of films the UK film industry needs to be making. So yeah, I’ve kind of given the overall opinion away in the first paragraph… I guess it’s up to you if you wish to continue…
An Education is the tale of a 16 year old schoolgirl named Jenny (Carey Mulligan) who has spent her entire life seemingly being brought up with one goal in mind, to get into Oxford University. Her parents have spent a lot of time and money making sure she has the education and personality needed to get in. She plays Cello as her official hobby, she spend her free time attempting to learn Latin ( a language even the Latin won’t speak in 50 years we’re told) but all the while she dreams of more exciting things. She dreams of living the life of the French Bourgeois. She listens to French music, talks of French films and litters her speech with French phrases in an attempt to sound more cultured. this isn’t entirely the wasted attempts of a child to appear cultured though. She is genuinely well educated in seemingly all aspects of life. After a chance encounter with a 30-something man named David (Peter Saasgaard) Jenny is swept off her feet into the world of fine dining, art auctions and and classy nightclubs.
The story is, slightly predictably, about a young girl attempting to become a woman all too soon. Desperate to leave behind the life of unrelenting education and University based goals for the life David can provide. Now normally you’d expect any normal parents to go to great lengths to stop a 30 year old man dating a 16 year old girl but David has a trick up his sleeve for that situation. He is one hell of a smooth talker. Anytime he wishes to have Jenny’s company, be it for a night out at a concert or a weekend in London, he manages to find just the right words to smoothly talk his way into the favour of her parents (Cara Seymour an as usual excellent Alfred Molina) and increasingly the favour of Jenny’s affections. She is smitten by the attention and the lifestyle he provides and is edging closer towards throwing away all the plans she has for her life for this one guy.
That sounds a little familiar but yet somehow not in quite as much a dismal, annoying and unbelievable way.
So the film moves along smoothly with very good performances all around particularly from Mulligan and Molina. In fact I’d dare to say that Jenny is one of the few well educated young female characters to have been presented in British cinema in recent years. Usually all we get is either mouthy chav girls or ditzy middle class women with plumbs int heir throat. It’s refreshing to see a female lead that’s actually capable of being not only believably well educated but also well spoken too. So tired of hearing every British person having novelty accents as though that’s the way the whole country speaks. Granted this is set in the 60s where there was a lot more focus on being well important skills such as intelligence and Grammar at schools but it’s still good to see.
Nick Hornby has crafted a very good screenplay here that is full of tiny details which upon second viewing will allow the viewer to see that little bit more in the performances. For example, the third act twist does come a little out of nowhere but you realise when thinking back that there was multiple occasions when Jenny could have discovered what she did and gotten out before what happens happens. It allows you to view the film a second time knowing that she could have been spared some pain and it makes the final act that little bit more tragic. This third act is a little awkward though but it is the logical conclusion for the film. It’s tough to tell a coming of age story of this nature whilst managing to avoid a downbeat ending, not that An Educations ending is entirely without happiness. One thing that may grate with the ending though is the way Nick Hornby and the director chose to tie up the final frames of the film. A slightly clumsy voice over is utilised which is, to me at least, out of place when voice over isn’t used at any other point in the film. Another wordpresser has written a good article about the difficulty Hornby must have faced with the films ending here.
The director of An Education (Lone Scherfig) shows a great deal of skill at capturing a shot to not only tell the viewer what’s important through Mise en Scene but at the same time makes sure that every frame is nigh on perfect. In my opinion it should be possible to take nearly any appropriate shot from a well made film and frame it on your wall. Looking over cinematographer John De Borman’s imdb page reveals he may be one I should have paid more attention to over the years. His work is full of visual variety (The Full Monty, Serendipity and Ella Enchanted) and it is those Cinematographers that tnd to produce the best results. He was clearly pushed by Scherfig to put out some of the best work of his career.
Musically the the film is sure to remind you what era it is set in with both period songs and a well crafted and understated score. Nothing screams out loud “This is the 60s” which is a good step to take. It is enough to set the scene. Also as this film is set at the very start of the 60s it is before the swinging 60s truly kicked off. In many ways the film is about a young girl who would likely be at the forefront of that particular movement. I’d dread to think what films set in our times will be like 50 years from now. Likely they’d focus on being scared of other countries, knife crime and teenage violence.
Overall, I kinda summed this film up at the start of this review but I’ll add that An Education is a film well worth viewing. It manages to hold your attention the whole time with it’s interesting, well written characters and it’s occasional moments of sharp humour. There’s also a good message that the youth of today, and quite a few adults, could do with learning and that’s that education is the key to being who you want to be. Without that you’re likely to struggle and maybe not live the life you had hoped to. Exchanges between Jenny and her teacher Miss Stubbs show this very well. Jenny believes Miss Stubbs got her education to just be a teacher grading bad poetry, later she realises that her teacher has just the things Jenny wanted in her life. Educations can come from any experience but as the film will remind you it’s what you do with those experiences that shape your future.