Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina
Director: Lone Scherfig
Running Time: 100 mins
An Education is a British film about a sixth form girl with an impeccable school record and desires of attending Oxford University, but the arrival of an older man living a sophisticated lifestyle changes her perspective on the future.
I absolutely loved this film. It’s easily one of the best coming-of-age stories I’ve ever seen, bettered even more by fantastic central performances, a great sense of humour, brilliant dialogue, and a beautifully stylish atmosphere throughout, all of which comes together to make An Education a thoroughly entertaining and hugely captivating tale.
First off, what really impressed me about this film is the way that it gave its characters such dramatic development without ever falling into the trap of the emotional melodrama. Based around a true story, Carey Mulligan plays Jenny, who starts off as a timid but smart young girl, and evolves rapidly into a strong-willed and sophisticated woman in one of the best takes on the coming-of-age genre in a long time.
It’s a story arc that’s clearly visible at every step of the way, but the fact that we get to see such a dramatic transformation in such a short space of time gives the film a huge emotional power that I wasn’t expecting. It’s not a story where everything goes right for everyone, and there are huge ups and downs for all the characters, but because you’ve seen where characters like Jenny have come from in the beginning, it’s so easy to empathise with her and get wrapped up in the film’s more powerful moments.
That emotional power is what really impressed me in the moment, but the overall lasting impression that I have of this film is actually quite the opposite. For all of its emotional seriousness centring around Jenny’s coming-of-age, I had a really fun time watching An Education more than anything.
A lot of that comes from the brilliant directing by Lone Scherfig. Set in the early 1960s in West London, Scherfig could have opted for a dull, more run-of-the-mill atmosphere for a period drama, where everything looks pretty, but doesn’t add to the vibe of the film. However, what he does so well, in conjunction with cinematographer John de Borman, is take the vibe of the swinging sixties that Jenny so wants to be a part of and make it a major player in the story.
So, rather than just being a backdrop to a personal story, the time period and locations in this film are just as much of a character than any of the people on screen. With fantastic music, settings and costumes, this film pulls you so far into the time period, and it gives you just as much of a whirlwind adventure as Jenny with her new friends, making it a truly memorable film overall.
Finally, the performances are absolutely fantastic. Carey Mulligan does a stunning job in the lead role, and pulls off Jenny’s dramatic transformation with ease, playing both a convincing young 16 year old, and a mature and sophisticated 17 year old, which was wonderful to see. Meanwhile, supporting players like Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams and in particular Rosamund Pike, were all excellent, and it was the breadth and diversity of the cast that gave the film life in so many different ways.
Some actors pulled off the drama brilliantly, whilst others contributed to reaffirming the lighter and more comedic atmosphere, but it all works wonderfully together to make a thoroughly memorable experience, and that’s why I’m giving An Education an 8.6.