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An Education Of Sorts

Updated on January 8, 2012
An innocent.
An innocent.
All buttoned up for school.
All buttoned up for school.

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.

A rare maroon sports car and money!
A rare maroon sports car and money!
Helen and Danny. Flashy friends.
Helen and Danny. Flashy friends.

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.

"We don't go in."
"We don't go in."
Read your Shakespeare!
Read your Shakespeare!
Carey Mulligan
Carey Mulligan

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.


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    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from San Francisco

      eilander, Thank you so much for that! Shall continue writing:)

    • eilander1542011 profile image


      8 years ago from Everywhere

      Another stellar movie review! I know for a fact that if I ever find myself in the fortunate position of writing movie reviews I will inquire many, many tips from you tracykarl99. You are an excellent writer.

    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from San Francisco

      That's the sad part, and the movie deals with it in a touching scene with Jenny's father standing outside her bedroom door holding a tray of tea, while Jenny inside cries quietly. But you'll love the scenes in the classroom where the teacher tries engaging her all-girl students in conversation about Jane Eyre, and in particular, Mr. Rochester!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Wonderful movie review, though I would think that Jenny's father would come down hard on David - he's a predator isn't he? Going after a young girl like that.

    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks very much, 2uesday ~ I loved this film and really got so much out of writing about it. Carey Mulligan was an inspiration, I must say ~ She is such a talent. I hope she makes another film soon. Thank you again for the wonderful and encouraging comments!

    • 2uesday profile image


      8 years ago

      I hope you get the number of reads for this that it deserves, it is an excellent review. I enjoyed reading it and the way you explain the plot to the reader. Anyone wanting to know about this film could not do better than to read this review.

    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from San Francisco

      You are welcome, Lamme. Thanks for the fan mail, too!

    • Lamme profile image


      8 years ago

      Great review! Thanks for writing this.

    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you, James. This is welcome praise coming from you! I hope you get to see the film; it is one of the only recently filmed movies that I actually liked - loved!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      8 years ago from Chicago

      You are gifted at movie review. Your use of the language is superb! I was captivated by your article. I was aware of this film but haven't seen it. I will rent it now as a result of your fine analysis. Well done!

    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I have always loved Emma Thompson too! She was at her British best in this film. You and your husband will definitely love it!

    • Storytellersrus profile image


      8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Very thorough study of a film I have yet to view. Thanks for tweaking my interest with your detailed exploration- I love Emma Thompson and her presence alone would bring my husband to the screen, lol. I will prepare the popcorn...

    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow, thank you so much, Skye2day, for your warm praises ~ I hope that you get to see the film, too. I think that you will love it! Thanks again!!

    • skye2day profile image


      8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      tracykarr199 This is an amazing piece of work here. Very Good. Like excellent. Wow You write better then movie critique buffs I have read. Keep on. A fascinatiing read traci.

      I would like to see the film one day. Many Blessings traci.

    • tracykarl99 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for your very wonderful comments. I think that this film can definitely be viewed more than once. You're right, it is very full and nuanced! I just chose the details that stood out most in my mind. Thanks for reading!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      I saw this film and you have written an excellent review with many details and nuances that one may miss when viewing it. In fact, I think that now I'll have to watch it again to see for myself some of the small things I may have missed. Good job, tracykarl.


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