An Education (2009)


UPDATE Feb. 21:  Carey Mulligan just won Best Actress at the BAFTA (British Academy of Films and Television Arts) Awards. CLICK HERE to read more. 

UPDATE Feb. 2, 2010 OSCAR NOMINATIONS: An Education receives a nomination for Best Picture in the coming 82nd Academy Awards.  Carey Mulligan gets a nod in the Best Actress category, and Nick Hornby gets a nom for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Update Jan. 23, 2010:  Carey Mulligan is a Best Actress nominee and a presenter at the Screen Actors Guild Award tonight.

Update Dec. 16:  Carey Mulligan has been nominated for a Golden Globe Best Actress Award.

Now is the time of the year that’s most gratifying. The awards season is coming up in just a few months. So this is when possible contenders are released, albeit some with just limited screening, and they aren’t likely to be your Hollywood blockbusters that might stay on for a while. That’s why I opted for ‘An Education’ over the weekend. ‘A Christmas Carol’ can wait.

An Education is the little British film that comes with high acclaim. The coming-of-age story is based on the memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber.  It first appeared in Granta magazine, later published by Penguin. The screenplay is written by Nick Hornby, the popular writer who gave us About A Boy, Fever Pitch, and High Fidelity, all turned into movies.

An Education won the Audience and Cinematography Awards at Sundance earlier this year.  And it might well propel Carey Mulligan to an Oscar nomination, which she so deserves. She has been noted as the young, modern Audrey Hepburn. But my impression of her is one fresh acting talent, sweet and extremely amiable. I’ve enjoyed her role in the BBC TV drama Bleak House as Ada Carstone. She’s Kitty Bennet in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, and has a small role in the memorable When Did You Last See Your Father (2007). An Education is her first major role in a feature film.

Carey Mulligan plays 16 year-old Jenny convincingly. Jenny is a top high school student aiming for Oxford as she graduates in a few months, an aspiration directed by her protective yet gullible father (Alfred Molina). Oxford is certainly within reach. Jenny is smart, talented, and self-assured. She has all the potentials needed to excel academically and to launch a successful future in life. She loves art, foreign films, classical music, and French pop culture.  The city of her dream is, naturally, Paris.


In the cloister of 1961 Twickenham, a suburb of London, all a girl needs is just a little door opened for her and she’ll leap right out. This door to the adult world and high culture seems to have swung wide open as she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), a man in his 30’s who offers her a ride home from school in the rain one day. That fateful afternoon marks the beginning of a dramatic turn in her life.

David brings her to art auctions, concerts, fancy restaurants and ultimately, Paris. Yet he remains secretive regarding his work. No, he did not go to Oxford, but he has graduated with flying colors from the University of Life. Thinking her new-found friend is their daughter’s ticket to higher society, Jenny’s parents gladly give their consent to their friendship, but not without some suave persuasion from David.

David also introduces Jenny to his friend and business partner Danny (Dominic Cooper, Mamma Mia!, 2008; Sense and Sensibility 2008) and his girlfriend Helen (Rosamund Pike, Jane Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, 2005)  They are to Jenny the mesmerizing and glamorous circle of adult sophistication.

Cheered on by her peers, Jenny is only frowned upon by two people, her hard-nosed headmistress (effectively played by Emma Thompson) and her English teacher Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams, who plays Jane Austen in Miss Austen Regrets, 2008), whose devotion to her student turns out to be extremely valuable. And then there’s her school mate Graham (Matthew Beard, When Did You Last See Your Father, 2007) who has a crush on her but is no match in front of towering David.

An Education is a film of revealing. Danish director Lone Scherfig takes her time in telling the story, leading the audience through passages of beautiful cinematography and fine acting, suspenseful scenes and memorable interludes. David does not at all appear to be the nasty predator. And Jenny, on her part, also attempts to test the limit. She’s not vain, but honestly dazzled and bewildered. The consent of her naive parents passes the ball back to her court, she must learn to make choices for herself.

And so the story leads the audience through twists and turns to a gratifying end. After the ordeal, Jenny said: “I feel old, but not very wise.”  It could well be the sign of maturity itself.  There’s no short cut to adulthood after all. Great cast, impressive performance, entertaining story, enjoyable education.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


CLICK HERE to read Lynn Barber’s essay in Granta magazine, chronicling the process of writing from memory, and transporting print onto screen.

AFTER you’ve watched the movie, you might like to CLICK HERE to read an excerpt of Lynn Barber’s memoir.  I urge you NOT to read it if you don’t want SPOILERS before watching the movie.

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

14 thoughts on “An Education (2009)”

  1. Jenny’s remark that she feels “old, but not very wise”, calls to mind Shakespeare’s line about loving not wisely, but too well.

    And haven’t we all experienced that moment in life when it’s all over (whatever “it” was) and we heave a sigh, feeling as though our emotions have just run a marathon?

    I’ve rarely felt you picking your way so carefully through a review – the clue, I suspect, is your aside that David doesn’t “appear” to be the nasty predator. It’s a big world and there’s lots to learn – you’ve certainly made me curious about “An Education”!


    1. Linda,

      I’m most grateful for your careful and perceptive reading. Yes, it was like walking on egg shells writing this review, because I just don’t want to give away the story. As I said, it’s a film of revealing. The enjoyment comes as the story unfolds itself. I remember reading a NYT movie review where the prominent critic A. O. Scott had written the story right out and the comments he got… well you can imagine. People don’t like spoilers.

      And for the not too wise but too well sentiment… who knows whether it’s real love. One intriguing and entertaining film, I’m sure it’ll land a spot comes Awards season early next year.


  2. That’s a beautifully written review, and An Education sounds like my favorite kind of movie – “. . . takes her time in telling the story, leading the audience through passages of beautiful cinematography and fine acting, suspenseful scenes and memorable interlude. . . ”

    I’ll ask my friend Inge to go! Thank you. I am completely out of it about movies now and need recs from friends. I used to know everything that was playing. 😐


  3. I just saw this film yesterday afternoon, with my mother, and I’ve been thinking about it all day. How easy it is, to be swept off one’s feet, to believe in another’s promises. Especially when one is young. I love how she ‘came to her senses’, albeit forced to face them, and continued her education at Oxford. It is such a thought-provoking movie in so many ways. I’ll be dwelling on it for a very long time.


    If you click on the links to Lynn Barber’s essay here and in the next post, you’ll find some interesting reminiscence from the writer herself… apparently her real life story may even be more incredible. Don’t you think Carey Mulligan has done an impressive job? I eagerly look forward to her future roles, and hope she’ll get a nomination for an Oscar, as some predict.



  4. An Education is a film that no one should miss – a great mix of wonderful fashion, style, humour, superb cinematography, soundtrack and a lovely storyline. It’s probably the best film I’ve seen in 2009.

    Two thumbs up to Carey Mulligan who played the young & innocent Jenny; her brilliant performance should land her the Best Actress Academy Award. I’m cheering for Mulligan as you can tell.

    Arti, do you know what movie Carey is working on at the moment? I can’t wait to see it!

    Molly Mavis,

    CM is one busy lady nowadays… imdb shows she has 6 projects going on right now. She’s rumored to be Eliza Doolittle in a re-make of ‘My Fair Lady’. She’ll also be in a new ‘Wall Street’ … remember that one? With Michael Douglas?

    I must mention though her role in the adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Now that’s one film to watch for… good time to read the book now. Ishiguro you might recall is the writer of the superb novel The Remains of the Day, which was turned into a captivating film with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

    Yes, let’s hope CM’s move to LA from England will open doors for her to a bright future.



  5. Thank you for the great and “not giving anything away” review! I should have read your review before watching the film! Being an educator myself, I enjoyed this film tremendously!
    Glad you’d enjoyed it. Wonder how true to life it is … 🙂


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