An Education could have easily fallen into all the trappings of a typical coming-of-age story: “Girl falls for older man, girl drops out of school, girl nearly sabotages college” is about as cliché as it gets. However, An Education, directed by Lone Scherfig, manages to avoid being formulaic, and is instead a beautifully realized, unsentimental look at one girl’s emotional education.
Set in 1960s London just before the mod years started, An Education is the story of Jenny, a brilliant 16 year old with her sights set on Oxford, if only to appease her parents. She meets David, a playboy in his early 30s, and is swept into his decadent world. What comes next never feels contrived or forced, thanks to Nick Hornby’s sparse, engrossing script.
What drives An Education is not the direction or the writing, but rather a tour de force star turn by Carey Mulligan. Mulligan, an actress best known for her minor role in Pride and Prejudice, gives Jenny an immense amount of depth, and, simply put, is a revelation.
Peter Sarsgaard is enigmatic, sleazy and wholly charming as David, the older man who seduces Jenny with entry into his posh life. Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike are also excellent as David’s business partner and his girlfriend, and Emma Thompson – always a delight – manages to steal the film with her few brief scenes as Jenny’s headmistress.
An Education is not perfect – having to deal with a potentially cliché topic is never easy – yet, the film is a wild success because of its astonishingly talented leading lady.
RATING: 4 stars
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard
Directed By: Lone Scherfig
MPAA Rating: PG-13