Her hunger for life has been too quickly

An Education

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            At last, a movie even the worst movie grouch can love. “An Education” has come quietly to town bearing a fine script, two nearly perfect performances, and some provocative life lessons. The fine script stays very close to the book written by British writer Lynn Barber. Barber’s experience was at once as improbable and universal as the story told by the movie – a romance between a 16 year old student and a 35 year old man. And that sentence is as dry and boring as the movie is wondrous, which brings us to the two nearly perfect performances.

            Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is studying for her A-level exams for entrance to Oxford. After playing her cello in a school concert, Jenny stands at a bus stop in a heavy English rain. Along comes David (Peter Sarsgaard) in his maroon sports car. “I know your parents taught you not to accept rides from strangers, but I’m worried about your cello. Put it in and you can run alongside.” We see in less than a minute that Jenny and Peter are loaded with charm, and that one minute tells us just how good this movie will be.

            At 16, Jenny is a top level student driven by a dreamy curiosity about life, foreign lands, and literature. Lying on her bedroom floor singing along with the records of Juliet Greco, she dreams of breaking out of her family’s suburb of Twickenham. She will go to Oxford and build a life.

            But David bores in for small meetings which morph into weekend trips to Paris - “There’s so much I want you to see.” He has by now seduced her parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) who see his age and sophistication as all to the good for the daughter they love. Jenny, already headed for a successful next step, is sucked in by classical music, jazz clubs, and luxurious restaurants. Her hunger for life has been fed too quickly.

            When David proposes and Jenny accepts, derailment is in the air. Her parents who have trained her for Oxford from infancy, are charmed. To her dismay, their attitude is “Who needs Oxford when you already have a husband?” She leaves school and her A-levels behind. The headmistress (Emma Thompson) and Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams) are crushed at the loss of the student who embodied everything that sustains them in their teaching careers.

            Peter Sarsgaard is excellent and credible as the irresistible mentor; a good supporting cast tells us everything we need to know about the soil that nurtured David and Jenny. But it is Carey Mulligan who makes the movie sing. She will surely be Britain’s gift to the acting world from her generation. She is an intelligent woman with good looks and a fine acting voice. Most importantly, she grasped and conveyed to the audience Jenny’s essence, an inner certainty that she will hold her core self back from her suitors, back from the world. She will keep it for herself.


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