Coming-of-age drama, An Education, is a standout British film released back in 2009 that unravels the deepest of emotions. The film is directed by Lone Scherfig, who has also directed One Day (2011) and Italian for Beginners (2000), with Nick Hornby as the screenwriter. The films retells Lynn Barber’s memoir where Jenny, a young girl with Oxford University aspirations, gets seduced by an older man whose ambiguity begins to vanish with upsetting consequences.
Carey Mulligan’s performance as Jenny in An Education is a spectacular one, worthy of its Academy Award nomination and where she was arguably robbed by Sandra Bullock. Mulligan’s portrayal is conducted with such sweetness and innocence, showing Mulligan finally finding her place in the film industry as one of the best female actors with utter class and perfected executions. Her chastity, so often seeping into a vulnerability elsewhere in film, is performed by Mulligan with strength and vigour, only to make the tale that more heartbreaking. In the film, due to Mulligan’s magnificent handling of the role and Hornby’s exquisite writing, Jenny undergoes a large characterial transition with consistent elegance making an encouraging bildungsroman at the darkest of times. To add to this, the performance of Peter Sarsgaard is cocooned with seduction that gradually unwraps to reveal quite a menacing core. As much as Sarsgaard’s David beguiled Jenny, he did the exact same to me. His ostentatious charm never slipped into an extravagant facade, but maintained a convincing deception.
With a pastel colour palette, a particular stress on navy, An Education is a film that is utterly stunning visually. Its aesthetic simplicity effectively constructs the authentic aura that surrounds the film throughout its entirety. To add to this purity, the cinematography is something quite special. As well as the masterfully crafted shots (for instance, when Jenny is standing in the pouring rain, becoming soaked amongst a thunderous, stoney hue), there is always a plethora of captivating cinematography but in a way that masks its existence. For instance, when Jenny is lying on her floor, singing ‘Sous le ciel de Paris’, the camera tenderly pans across as Jenny embeds herself within her passion and we see her scattered records; exhausted with education and lusting after the French ideology. It is this delicate cinematography that makes An Education a piece of film that is so real, and a display of life with such art.
The film and its screenplay explores and exposes 1960’s British society in quite a warming manner but with skilful cruel undertones, satirically questioning the caricatures that saturate the corrupt class system. Amongst the script, Jenny once says: “I’m still trying to work out what makes good things good.” With film, there isn’t a condensed tick list that makes a film a masterful or poor one; there are endless things to consider. But most of the time, you know when something is good – and An Education is good in every possible way.
An Education (2009), released in UK cinemas in 2009, is available on Blu-ray disc and DVD from Entertainment One, Certificate 12.