The year is 1962 and a 16 year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is walking home from band practice, attempting to shelter her cello from the rain. David (Peter Sasgaard), a gentleman of twice her age confesses that he is a “music lover” and offers Jenny and her cello a ride home, and so begins this little miracle of a film.
While the relationship between Jenny and David is borderline grooming, for the most part is plays like a classical romance. David is effortlessly cool thanks to a great performance from Sasgaard and sharp dialogue from Nick Hornby’s finely-tuned script. Mulligan also hits the perfect balance as Jenny, naive but never a passive victim, she is complicit in her own seduction. The credibility of the central romance is crucial to the success of the film, unlike any film I can remember I believed in every aspect of the relationship and really wanted it to work, which meant every subtle hint (and they are subtle) that David isn’t all that he seems is incredibly unsettling.
While An Education’s bread and butter is the relationship between Jenny and David, the two main characters are accompanied by a varied and impressive supporting cast. Jenny’s conservative parents Jack (Alfred Molina) and Marjorie (Cara Setmour) provide a boring and passive aggressive depiction of suburban marriage, one that underpins Jenny’s rebellious and liberal nature well. Molina excels in his hilarious in his role as lovable but bigoted shut-in father. Further epitomising Jenny’s dull life before meeting David are her teachers, Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams) and Headmistress (Emma Thompson) both deliver multidimensional performances as world weary cynics rather than simply monochrome scholars. The characters on David’s side of the relationship support and explain his character equally well. His contemporaries Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Helen (Rosamund Pike), mirroring his sophisticated but shallow lifestyle and delivering mysterious and understated performances.
While the stunning cast and an Oscar worthy performance from Carey Mulligan are An Education’s main success, it achieves in other areas. Set in the early 1960s, the soundtrack and dated camera techniques fit the period perfectly. Hornby’s screenplay also tackles period issues such as post-war antisemitism, sexual discrimination and xenophobia as well as being full of well observed social awkwardness. I expected a lot from An Education and it still blew my expectations away, it is my favourite drama in recent memory.
This review was originaly written for my film blog Scrambled Pixel, google us if you enjoy my nonsense.