I’m not going to lie — I love British accents. So intelligent and classy: they make any sort of speech sound a million times better, even if it was written by Americans. So sitting in a room where the surround sound treated my little American ears to soothing Brit symphonies of sounds made me immediately biased towards this movie, before the credits had even begun.
Of course, the minute I saw the movie, I realized that I didn’t even need to go for just the accents anyway, because “An Education” was one of the best films I had the opportunity to see this year.
Jenny, brilliantly played by up-and-coming actress Carey Mulligan, is a 16-year-old average suburban girl with a passion: to make her family proud and be accepted at the prestigious Oxford University. But of course, her cleverness and strikingly good looks get her into a bit of a pickle: a full-fledged relationship with the glamorous older man David, played by Peter Sarsgaard.
The young book smart lass is suddenly thrown into a world of culture, fine music, expensive vacations and sex. But Jenny is no innocent fool. She excitedly joins David in his glamorous world as she’s exposed to burgeoning cultural shift 1960’s Britain as it is being born. Her double life is intriguing, and she is soon living in a way she had never dreamed of before. But as Oxford becomes last on her priority list, and her beau David consumes her time, she changes from her educated-ambitious young self, to just another woman who got caught up in the life of a man.
The line-up of great actors goes on and on, but my personal favorite in the movie was the small role Emma Thompson played as the headmistress of Jenny’s school. Strict and ignorant, she plays the 1960s uneducated female stereotype perfectly: she thinks she knows everything, and yet is a simple product of a generation that was told to become something, not encouraged to think of something.
In a particular scene where she discusses Jenny’s relationship with David (who happens to be Jewish), she reminds that Jenny dating someone outside the religion is dating someone that “killed Our Lord.” Sounds a bit heavy, but her delivery of the line was so brilliantly natural and witty, that I couldn’t help but fall in love with this actress one more time.
With such a small role, she did so much to heighten the movie that I left the showing thinking more about her pompous, ignorantly humorous advice than the other character’s troubles.
David and Jenny’s relationship, though seemingly creepy because of the age difference, is extremely innocent. They share a love that is so rare and sweet: a kiss that carries the awkwardness of a couple’s first (i.e. slow lean in the car, nervous laughter, a quick exit after it’s over). It’s the kind of relationship that one would actually want to see succeed; but it is a romance doomed to fail before it even begins. You can see it and know it from the beginning, even in the most tender of scenes.
Another bright spot character was the young Rosamund Pike as the selfish, ignorant, here-for-a-good time gal Helen. A friend of David’s, and girlfriend of Danny (Dominic Cooper), the couples pair off for lavish events, dance parties, Oxford outings, and racetrack gambling.
Helen is a foil to Jenny: she is the opposite of Jenny’s original nature, and yet at the same time represents what the 16 year-old will become if she stays with David: severely uneducated, selfish and dressed to the nines.
She tells Jenny not to go to Oxford because all the girls there are ugly. Jenny is clever enough to notice that this woman is her destined fate, yet her teenage ability to somehow think everything will be fine causes her to glaze over the apparent warning Helen is unseeingly sending. Pike is perfect at being this product of the ‘60s.
Her lack of knowledge does not hit you like a ton of bricks, like the average “ignorant” teenager role that many actors are forced to play sometime in their life, but is subtle and yet sad enough to make you feel sympathy for this woman. You know her life is on a one-way track towards serving the man, and you know she has no way out. Pike is perfectly cast.
The sets and costumes were another story of perfection. They were so perfectly sequenced with the time period of the sixties, that as I left the theatre, I heard an elderly woman remark to her friends how she wore the exact same style of clothes in the sixties.
It made me smile that the costumes and sets were given priority in a time where the past is often forgotten altogether.
“An Education” succeeds because of the cliché traps that it avoids falling in to. Mulligan’s character is not simply an embodiment of youthful naiveté and earnestness. She embraces the excitement that David brings to her life. David, played flawlessly by Sarsgaard, is more than just the sleazy seducer. His charm is entirely genuine and his impeccable way with words makes it easy to see why Jenny can’t resist him. From their first meeting when he saves her cello from the rain, David’s appeal is magnetic.
One of the best films of the year, “An Education” taught me the importance of learning how to stay true to oneself in a society where there are many paths to choose from.