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A CurtainUp Streaming Feature
By Elyse Sommer
Mulligan made even shows that I didn't love memorable; for example, Through the Glass Darkly. While I managed to see and write about all her New York appearances, I missed seeing her 2009 breakout movie role as a 16-year-old British schoolgirl who becomes involved with a man twice her age. But, though Mulligan is now, like all of us, confined to home during the Pandemic, that career-making film — An Education — can be seen on Netflix or YouTube.
Bottom Line: It's a highly recommended treat to either catch up with or revisit.
But isn't this story involving a young girl's seduction by an older man one that's been done again and again? My answer: Not at all. Mulligan's Jenny is no victim and Peter Sarsgaard's David is hardly a typical predator. Furthermore, the 1961-1963 time frame is a wonderful nostalgia trip back to British society's early sixties' coming-of-age, a time when parents supported a daughter's winning a place at Oxford in hopes that it would help her make a good marriage, rather than to enable her becoming a fully realized independent individual.
Mesmerizing as it is to watch the way 24-year-old Mulligan got into this eager to live and learn teen's persona — her face a map of feelings ranging from joyous wonder, to uncertainty, to despair— there are many other pleasures to bolster my recommending An Education. The cast overall couldn't be better.
Peter Sarsgaard — an American actor with a penchant for classic roles — made his Broadway debut as Trigorin in the 2008 revival of The Seagull, in which Carey Mulligan played Nina,. He does an amazing job of making David fascinating and complex enough for this to feel more like a romance than a creepy seduction. He's attractive . enough to make you understand Jenny's being smitten with him. He lets the creep factor nudge its way to the surface, gradually and, ultimately, in full force.
Albert Molina and Cara Seymour are terrific as Jenny's parents, with Molina especially good in making Jack a lovable authoritarian and often quite funny. which validates Jenny's "education" being both comedy and tragedy.
David's friends Danny and Helen (Rosamond Pike and Dominic Cooper) also do well in secondary roles during Jenny's transformation from schoolgirl to glamour girl with upswept hair. Olivia Williams as a supportive teacher, and Emma Thompson as the anti-Semitic headmistress use their cameo roles to expand the basically been-there-done-that plot to focus on the period's still prevalent social and racial prejudices.
A big bravo is due to Nick Hornby's screen adaptation of journalist Lynn Barber's memoir of her own two-year affair with an older man. He's stuck close enough to the source material to retain its true story authenticity but imbued Jenny's character with such warmth that we root for her even as she's making terrible decisions. As Mulligan fully captures Jenny's intellignce and charm, so Director Lone Scherfig lets the tawdry undercurrents of her relationship with David gradually shift from its fun, comic tone into the darker territory of David's appealingly sophisticated and properly respectful surface.
The camera follows Jenny's adventure from London to Paris — to Jenny's school, the streets between there and her neighborhood, a concert hall, an auction house and, yes, a bedroom where Jenny discovers that sex doesn't live up to all the poetry about it. It all begins when Jenny is caught in a downpour after student concert rehearsal, and David tactfully offers to deal with the dangers of getting into a stranger's car by keeping her cello dry and driving slowly enough for her to walk safely alongside— slow enough for getting to know (and trust) him conversation. He's a music lover and clearly more interesting than the young male student who has a crush on her.
And so she joins her cello and one thing leads to another. David wins over not just Jenny but her naive parents. As he charmed her into getting in his car, he manages to make the parents agree to let him take her to a concert. Champagne, cigarettes and other outings follow. Eventually Jenny realizes that there's something not quite right about the way David and his friends pay for all this high living. However, as already mentioned, she is not your typical victim. Thus, while she's too smart not to see the darkness beneath the smoke and glamour, she opts to carry on with her adventure with a more fully lived life.
Since this is a true story and not a fairy tale, ultmately Jenny does become the victim of her decision to continue her relationship with David whose dark side is even worse than she suspected . But as Mulligan allows Jenny to succumb to tears and regrets, she also has her do a a credible turnaround from self pity to survival tactics. No prince with a golden slipper, just sheer determination win the day. It may be a slightly too convenient happy ending — but it worked for the real life Jenny, and for sure, we all can use a promise of happy outcomes for bad decisions these days.
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Screenplay by Nick Hornby
Based on An Education by Lynn Barber
Directed by Lone Scherfig.
Cast: Carey Mulligan (Jenny), .Peter Sarsgaard (David), Alfred Molina (Jack), Cara Seymour (Marjorie), Rosamund Pike (Helen) Dominic Cooper (Danny), Olivia Williams (Miss Stubbs), Emma Thompson (Headmistress Walters).
Music by Paul Englishby
Cinematography John de Borman
Edited by Barney Pilling
Running time 100 minutes.