An Education Review: A Lesson In Acting

October 29, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Film Reviews

AN EDUCATION: On General Release Across the UK from Friday 30th October 2009

An Education is a witty and snappily paced drama based on journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir which features excellent performances from its cast, notably so from Carey Mulligan, whose performance will almost certainly net her an Oscar.

Set in 1961, before Beatlemania and the swinging 60s changed society forever, Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a 16 year old schoolgirl, is studying hard in a bid to get into Oxford, a place which her controlling father (Alfred Molina) is convinced she should go to.

She yearns to escape her dull lower-middle class suburban life and dreams of culture, art and Parisian joie de vivre. Her dreams are answered when she’s approached by David, a charming and seductive older man (Peter Skarsgaard), who takes her away to a world of fancy restaurants, smoky bars and a world of cultural classical musical recitals and art auctions.

Her English teacher and headmistress express their concerns, but by then Jenny is too swept up in her new life to pay their warnings any heed. Nick Hornby’s screenplay is well paced, keeping the plot bubbling and constantly moving forward with no stagnation. This is aided admirably by Lone Scherfig’s direction which manages to perfectly recreate 1960s suburban London but also the glamorous life that Jenny aspires to.

These achievements are merely the icing on the cake however; the real backbone of the film is in the acting. Peter Skarsgaard is well cast as David – slightly creepy initially but charming enough to win over not only Jenny’s parents but the audience as well – the very picture of a successful rich British young man. His wealthy and slightly shady friend Danny exudes sophistication and cool – a role played to the tee by Dominic Cooper, relaxed and comfortable in his own skin. Rosamund Pike is a surprise choice as his empty-headed girlfriend Helen; you’d usually expect to see her in roles with a bit more bite, but she’s good and believably dopey.

Elsewhere in Jenny’s home life, Alfred Molina shines as her earnest but naive father, desperate to impose his will upon his daughter but easily cowed by David’s charming demeanour. At school, Olivia Williams excels as Jenny’s concerned teacher and Emma Thompson makes a welcome appearance as her magisterial headmistress.

However, all of these performances are dwarfed by that of Carey Mulligan, who balances perfectly the frustration of being old beyond her years, able to hold her own intellectually with David and his peers, while also having a considerable naivety and vulnerability that underpins her character. It would be surprisingly if she didn’t at least get an Oscar nod for such an engaging and difficult portrayal.

The film falters slightly near the end, where problems are resolved a little too quickly but by this point that would be merely nitpicking. An Education is a marvellous take on a coming-of-age drama and a thoroughly enjoyable British film.

Jez Sands

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