An Education

Film, Romance
An Education
Read an interview with Scherfig here

This is ‘Fish Tank’ for the suburbs: semis, not slums; safe, not sorry. Journalist Lynn Barber’s spiky memoir of striking up a relationship with an older man in early 1960s west London has been turned into an accessible comedy romance by screenwriter Nick Hornby that seems designed to play extraordinarily well in the very same privet-lined streets it describes.
It’s true that Barber, in her book, saw more absurdity than seediness in her youthful engagement to a criminal Jack the Lad at the same time as she was preparing to apply to Oxford from her Twickenham grammar school. But Hornby softens the edges further so that David (Peter Sarsgaard), her flashy suitor, is more charming than predatory, more vulnerable than cunning. The paedophile question is side-stepped entirely, even turned into a gag, and good-looking, redeemable Sarsgaard doesn’t appear to be in his late thirties, as Barber assumes in her memoir, even if he claimed to be 27 to her 16. Hornby’s script also makes too much of the peril of – God forbid – not getting into Oxford so that the film ends on an odd note that seeks false drama and resolution in Jenny being accepted or not at the university.

Luckily, Danish director Scherfig and star Mulligan give the film considerable weight by surrounding this lightly played, strange romance with both an acute understanding of Barber’s endearing screen alter ego, Jenny (Mulligan), and incisive material about the differences between this know-it-all young lady and her less worldly mum (Cara Seymour) and dad (Alfred Molina), for whom wine is a Christmas treat and the French are the enemy across the water. It’s through them that we see the first chink of light in the generation gap that would widen as the decade went on.

There’s a persistent comic tone which makes the light treatment of Jenny and David’s affair more palatable than it should be. This is provided partly by Molina and Seymour as the likeable, misguided parents, but partly by Rosamund Pike’s brilliant empty-headed posh fluff, Helen, one of the early 1960s urban beau monde that includes Dominic Cooper as Helen’s louche boyfriend, who glides with David from nightclub to art auction to dog track with Jenny in tow.

As Jenny, Mulligan offers a great impression of Audrey Hepburn once she ties up her hair, throws off her school uniform and puts on an expensive, modish dress and jewellery. She is simply excellent in the role, the perfect mix of naivety and maturity beyond her character’s years. She has a strong but down-to-earth beauty which alone does much to compensate for some of the film’s less convincing, broader moments.

Read an interview with Scherfig here

By: Dave Calhoun


Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday October 30 2009
Duration: 95 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Lone Scherfig
Screenwriter: Nick Hornby
Cast: Peter Sarsgaard
Alfred Molina
Carey Mulligan

Average User Rating

3.2 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:3
  • 4 star:4
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:4
  • 1 star:0
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I found the film both silly and disturbing. Disturbing because of David’s (Sarsgaad’s) age as he looked his 39 years. It seemed to be very much a grooming of Jenny ready for the sexual encounter. There never was any emotion in David, no hand holding or sweet nothings. Jenny was just far to mature for someone so young and inexperienced to suddenly go from schoolgirl to a seasoned smoker, drinker and party goer especially with her numskull father and simpering mother’s staid lifestyle. I couldn’t believe that the headmistress would not have spoken to the parents about Jenny’s change of lifestyle affecting her education. What a silly scene in the car when Jenny happened to look in the glove box and saw the letters and the parents just accepted it all. And the scene in the auction, I can’t believe that her bids would have been taken. To me this film typifies Hornby as the scriptwriter whose “High Fidelity� was his take on reality.

A very beautiful re-creation of a non-pc ( thank God ! ) era & romance. I loved every minute of this gem, this diamond, of a film ! We need more quality films like this one !

A very beautiful re-creation of a non-pc ( thank God ! ) era & romance. I loved every minute of this gem, this diamond, of a film ! We need more quality films like this one !

A lovely litte film about being young, headstrong and unworldly, despite thinking you know it all. The female lead was the sort of up-herself, effortlessly academic girl who could have done with a good bog-washing in a modern comprehensive. Her much older lover was brilliantly charming and deeply creepy all at once and the way her parents innocently fell for his manipulative patter was well-portrayed, though Alfred Molina over-acted. Rosamund Pyke stood out as the funny but dim beauty and Dominic Cooper can almost be forgiven for 'Mama Mia' for his role here as a posh criminal: Clever, calculating but strangely sympathetic. There was a slight whiff of the props department when it came to the '60's interiors and fashions, which takes away some of the authenticity of the film. Too over-observed and perfect, but ultimately, a good film

In the running for top ten worst films of the decade. Absurd dialog and skeevie handling of the story. And the ending? Gag. A waste of mostly good actors, costumes, cinematography, and $$$. The good reviews of this film have made me question my sanity, thanks for the reality check.

I was desperate to leave after ten minutes but the person I went with didn't want to which just shows I am not very good at choosing my mates. This was boring, boring, boring. Lots of reasons: a) Character /setting disonance - a very modern girl, circa 1991 was superimposed onto a 1961 landscape (where when it stopped raining five hudnered yards after she takes a lift, the pavement was not even wet) No one spoke back to a teacher without being expelled in 1961 which was closer to 1861 than we realise......yes folks it was was at that level - you did not need to throw a chair at a teacher to get evicted and the head's word was law). Maybe the Mitfords could do it but this was not an aristocratic bore but a middle class bore. The dad character was a cartoon caracature straight out of the first Harry Potter film; 'David' is suppopsed to have checked out her breasts and then gone to sleep -give me a break. No mention of birth control when she primly loses her virginity by a mathematically calculated decison at 17. And they had no obvious physical contact = or even chemistry - at all - it was as sexual as watching an amoeba. I cannot believe the script allowed for a banana to be introduced as a potential prop. What is wrong with carrots if they have to do that sort of rubbish - less air miles...... This was not paedophila - she was almost 17 and the throw away very mild anti Jewish line from the head was not necesary: Jews faced a lot of quiet and overt antisemitism in 1960s Brtiain......Unbeleviable that David could live round the corrner and no one realised, go off to Paris, theatres etc ( what did he tell his missus?) etc etc and all his wife said when she saw the girl was " You're just a child!" No, she woudl not have said that. She would not have used the word "child". She would have done a Mrs Tiger Woods. Maybe the middle classes were different in 1961 - but this girl was amoral ( she happily learnt of an old lady being ripped off) and I juet hoped she'd fall off her smug Oxford bike into the world of my toffee factory which is where I was at the time. I preferred Ice Age 3 - there was a better script and more passion. I would only recommend this film for the reasonable cinematography. Otherwise go bowling.

Refreshing at first....but like a mohito without the essential dosage of lime. No spark. Mildly entertaining and worth a watch on the part of the tv drama schedule ....etc

The purpose of this film appears to be to make Lynn Barber look clever by getting into Oxford in spite of interrupted and deficient preparation. The principal character's background seems relatively humble, home counties suburban semi, probably state grammar rather than private school. The disturbance comes in the form of an older man, charming but uneducated, who, surprise surprise, isn't what he appears to be. There's so much about this film that's fake, down to the detail of the communication from Oxford - it's the colleges that award places, not the university. Will Jenny go to Oxford, or will her life pursue some other course? I found it difficult to care. The principal actress does look a bit like Audrey Hepburn, though.

A poor production, tv quality. I love Nick Hornby novels but as a screenwriter is quite disappointing.

Thanks Time Out for revealing that David is a criminal - something the film doesn't reveal for about half an hour. Try not spoiling the plot next time.

there is an idea here which evolves to an intelligent parafdigm ,where jenny played by a 17 year old mulligan ,starsts to question the idea of formal education itself ,here she is challenging the shallow and hollow social and redundant traditions that insist on education being an obligatory essence for anyone who has the ability to think . At the same time we see the past consequences of what has happenned to the other so-called successful icons of educational triumphs played by a dowdy frustrated bored school headmistress in a brilliant cameo by emma thompson . THE ENCOUNTERS BETWEEN the teacher and pupil about her extra curricular romance and affair with an older good looking rich jewish man , and their french adventures in sixties paris are both charming and very intriguing as they raise some relevant questions about what is happiness and what is pseudo -satisfaction . the scenes where jenny challenges her peers -parents and teachers are zealously executed with a pomposity which is commendable and convincing simultaneously . Jenny is happy with her illicit lover who drives a posh bristol and takes her away from her twickenham suburbia to the wonders of saint germaine with the eclectic FRENCH music ,CAFES,CUISINE and movies to tempt her . Yet the discovery of her ultimate betrayal by Skarsgard ,her tender and conscientious lover brings this lovely gallic liaision to a halt and brings us full circle into the frustrated world of reality but as for the movie it delivers and mulligan as jenny is a contemporary brilliant talent who reminds one of katherine hepburn in her forties classics where the project was based upon the strong shoulders of an eccentric talent and an innovatively written script -a definitely entertaining and provoking movie which takes a very wicked tongue in cheek view of the english education system and the satirical remarks about OXFORD ,JEWS AND LATIN itself are hiariously divine yet very subtle where no one is forcing anything down your throat in the name of so-called romcom . intelligent cinema and art too with mellow entertainment like summer rain with a tongue in cheek ending which is priceless .

I could see this was a well produced and acted film, but I didn't enjoy the story.

I loved this film, for all it's small faults, as it speaks to life moments of school, innocence, love, parenthood and experience. A film without 3D, CGI or big budget stars, but it does have everything else for a great night out at the flicks. Sit back, think about yourself as a 16yo, your Mum & Dad, school and your first love. What could be better?

I loved this film, for all it's small faults, as it speaks to life moments of school, innocence, love, parenthood and experience. A film without 3D, CGI or big budget stars, but it does have everything else for a great night out at the flicks. Sit back, think about yourself as a 16yo, your Mum & Dad, school and your first love. What could be better?

thank you for one of the few less than golden reviews of this. i thought it was so misguided. sure, there were a couple of wonderful scenes, but the entire film was phony, scary, and frothy. it had to be saved by swelling strings in the soundtrack, not a good sign. in the end, a very slight picture -- maybe a good lark if it was truly told -- but in its bombastic form, it rang false.