An Education Of Sorts
This beautifully arranged BBC film depicts both the importance of getting an education and the education-in-life that a schoolgirl, played by Carey Mulligan, receives through her indelible romance with an older man, played by Peter Sarsgaard. The setting is 1961, London featuring rising, puffed hair-doos and jazz still on the cutting edge of cool. With misty, London streets, glittering Paris, the Notre Dame and frolicsome camera-shots along the promenade le Seine - and though the heroine of this film dreams of being French, it is the brilliant badinage and effortless eloquence of the English that make you wish that you were born British; the film is an Anglophile’s heaven.
The story begins with Jenny Miller, the precocious sixteen-year-old English girl who is rather bored with suburban Twickenham as she works hard in school to realize her ambitions of going on to Oxford to study English. It is interesting to note here that in classical mythology, young maidens are habitually abducted, usually by Jupiter or some other male character and always for the purposes of sex; the helpless females are whisked, or dragged, away by a powerful shape-shifter. In this movie, Jenny, standing on the street dripping in the rain, is similarly abducted by the older, David. He, like Jupiter and the other gods, has the advantage; in David’s case: a rare, maroon sports car and money. Unlike the willful, brutish figures of the mythical realms, David uses the art of persuasion to lure the girl, Jenny, into his car and into his exciting, non-boring world, which transforms at the crisis point into an illusory life.
First, David quite easily woos Jenny; but, then he must win her parents as well. Just as he is about to walk into the house, Jenny informs her parents – mainly out of an impulsive, rebellious urge – that David is Jewish. The timing allows Jenny’s father, (Alfred Molina), a tall, broad-jowled, Englishman of the bellicose variety, to embarrass himself in front of David, which of course immediately gives David the upper hand. But, with all of the referencing to David’s Jewish-ness and all of the talk of Jews – its context and layered, verbal faux pas, one wonders precisely where the anti-Semitism is coming from. Jenny’s headmistress, (Emma Thompson), appears to be the most obvious, and by turns ignorant, anti-Semitic culprit. Still, she and Jenny’s favorite teacher, Miss Stubbs, (Olivia Williams), are not as gullible as Jenny’s parents, and the teachers remain the sensible voices of authority against that inexorable tidal-wave called - falling in love. They want Jenny to stick to her dream of “reading English” - American translation: studying English Literature, at Oxford, “no matter what” as Miss Stubbs puts it.
But, David’s world is too intoxicating to resist. He has glamorous friends and a seductive lifestyle, which includes going out to restaurants and jazz clubs and even to Paris. Danny, (Dominic Cooper), David’s buddy, appears at first circumspect then protective of Jenny’s feelings. He seems to know something ineffable and speaks in cryptic metaphor: “I’d be careful if I were you, Jenny,” he warns. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with”; while Danny’s girlfriend, the rather daft but sweet Helen, (Rosamund Pike), embraces the girl into their entourage, though Helen is perfectly baffled by Jenny’s temporary lapses into French or her abstruse ambition to read English. “You’re going to read English books,” states Helen, staring slack-mouthed as if this would be as pointless as throwing a mink stole into the Thames. And though Helen is the antithesis of the erudite English girl, she can also be unwittingly trenchant, as the blamelessly ingenuous often will. For example, Helen points out that David and Danny, while rich, are not really all that interesting.
When the veil slowly, inevitably begins to lift, and Jenny gets a glimpse into the real life of David, her first impulse is to run, but David grabs her by her bejeweled wrist and they dance the dance of pulling apart and converging back together. As everyone knows, Jenny is special. David does not want to lose her, and he is as persuasive with her as he was with her parents in getting his way. The great thing about Jenny, according to David, is that when he sets a glass of whiskey on the table she drinks it down and promptly demands another. “It’s great,” he tells her. Incredibly, this works to keep Jenny spellbound. Also, he reminds her that she is more clever than he and his friends, which really makes her smile, because Jenny’s grades had begun to fall as the path of her life had rushed madly off course.
As Jenny’s English class is studying Jane Eyre, Miss Stubbs cannot resist making the comparison of Jenny’s older man, David, with Rochester. And since the entire class is enthralled by Jenny’s double life, the teacher makes her poignant message clear: “is he your Mr. Rochester?” she asks. In this movie about an education in English, literary comparisons are as ubiquitous as flocks winging up out of Kensington Gardens. Under the feminine leadership of Miss Stubbs, who leads the class, Jenny begins to appear as the unfortunate maiden who has been “ruined” by some pursuing male and thus ostracized by Diana and her chaste maidens bathing in the virgin spring. Indeed, once everything has unraveled and Jenny must entreat the headmistress - that formidable person refuses Jenny the chance to repeat her final year so that she can make up for lost time. But, alas, the quiet beauty behind the horn-rimmed glasses, Miss Stubbs, is Jenny’s champion after-all in this emotionally seizing, yet, happy ending to a wonderful, coming-of-age story.
Carey Mulligan with her sometimes coquettish, sometimes musing glance, quickly endears her audience. She is particularly gifted at conveying the flood of feeling at every moment of crisis. She received overwhelming accolades following the release of the film in 2009. Mulligan has been compared to Audrey Hepburn and has appeared on the covers of numerous magazines, including, Interview, April, 2010, which also featured a Susan Sarandon/Carey Mulligan conversation worth the read.
An Education was directed by Lone Scherfig, based on a memoir by Lynn Barber. Screenplay by Nick Hornby. The film won the Audience Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and 3 academy award nominations for 2009: including best picture, best actress and best adapted screenplay.