An Education
dir Lone Scherfig
scr Nick Hornby
prd Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey
with Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, Sally Hawkins, Matthew Beard, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Ellie Kendrick
release US 9.Oct.09, UK 30.Oct.09
09/UK BBC 1h35
An Education
A day in the country: Sarsgaard and Mulligan

cooper pike molina
berlin film fest
london film festival
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
An Education A lively tone and very funny dialog kind of throw us off the scent of this film's starkly serious themes. Beneath the charm and humour is an intriguing story about a time when being a strong-willed young woman just wasn't allowed.

In 1961 London, Jenny (Mulligan) is a gifted 16-year-old on track for a place at Oxford University, much to the joy of her parents (Molina and Seymour), literature teacher (Williams) and headmistress (Thompson). Then she meets the charismatic David (Sarsgaard), an older man who sweeps her off her feet with a love of the arts, his glamorous life and intelligent friends (Cooper and Pike) who offer more engagement than Jenny finds with those her age. Jenny loves being all grown up around them. Who needs Oxford?

Of course, as the story progresses, David starts to seem increasingly predatory, which gives the film a shadowy undertone that causes crises for everyone in Jenny's life, mainly because she's so determined to do what she wants to do. And the story is told from an intriguingly nostalgic angle, as if all of the characters are being seen through the haze of Jenny's memory, from David's dualities to her parents' and teachers' attempts to protect her from her own stubbornness.

Along the way, the story also reveals important life lessons that are actually quite provocative. The main issue here is whether risking your future is worth having a full life today. This is a question no one can really answer, but at least the filmmakers have a go, and get our minds spinning as we think about such issues as why education is valued so far above experience. Although the script really only raises these things without offering true insight.

What makes this essential viewing is the cast, all of whom deliver full-bodied performances. Mulligan gives a star-making turn as Jenny, a thoroughly engaging central character we can really identify with. While Sarsgaard bravely portrays the handsome, smiling suitor as someone with sinister edges. The entire supporting cast is excellent as well, with Molina the standout as the doting, worried father. And Scherfig wrangles everyone into beautifully natural characterisations that make the most of film's somewhat slight approach.

cert 12 strong themes, innuendo, 10.Feb.09 bff

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall