Education, An (2009): Lone Scherfig’s Coming of Age Tale, Featuring Carey Mulligan in Career Making Performance

A touching coming-of-age tale, An Education was adapted to the screen by Nick Hornby from Lynn Barber’s memoir of the same title.

The film, which was directed by Lone Scherfig, premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Fest, where it won the Audience and Cinematography Awards.

Set in Britain in 1961, the sharply observed story centers on Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a bright and attractive schoolgirl who’s 16.

On the brink of womanhood, she dreams of a rarefied, French-scented existence as she sings along to Juliette Greco in her Twickenham bedroom.  Stifled by the tedium of adolescent, Jenny can’t wait for her adult life to begin.  Meanwhile, she’s a diligent student, excelling in every subject except the Latin that her father is convinced will land her a place at Oxford University.

Jenny’s routine suburban life is upended by the arrival of a suitor, David (Peter Sarsgaard), who’s almost twice her age.  Urbane and witty, David instantly unseats Jenny’s stammering schoolboy admirer, Graham (Beard).  To her amazement, he even charms her conservative parents Jack (Alfred Molina) and Marjorie (Seymour), effortlessly overcomes any objections to their daughter’s older, Jewish suitor.

David introduces Jenny to a glittering world of classical concerts and late-night suppers with his attractive friend and business partner, Danny (Cooper) and Danny’s girlfriend, the beautiful but vacuous Helen (Rosamund Pike).  David replaces Jenny’s traditional education with his own version, picking her up from school in his Bristol roadster, whisking her off to art auctions and smoky clubs.

Promising to introduce her to C.S. Lewis, David takes Jenny on a weekend jaunt to Oxford with Danny and Helen.  Later, using a mixture of flattery and fibbery, he persuades her parents to allow him to take their only daughter to Paris for her 17th birthday.  Jack and Marjorie don’t know that Jenny has chosen the specific date and place to lose her virginity.

Paris is all that Jenny had imagined, but sex with David is not. On her return to Twickenham, Jenny’s school friends are thrilled with her sophistication, but her headmistress (Emma Thompson) is scandalized and her English teacher Miss Stubbs (Williams) is disappointed that her prize pupil is throwing away her gifts and chance of higher education.

Just as the family’s long-held dream of getting their brilliant daughter into Oxford seems within reach, Jenny is tempted by another kind of life.  Will David be the making of Jenny, or her undoing?


Sony Pictures Classics release

Running time: 100 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13