Lessons in love
Danish director Lone Scherfig is showing something of a liking for making films in Britain. The director of Glasgow-set Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself returns to the UK for this 1960s romantic drama featuring conmen, generation gaps, young love, swinging London and, as the title suggests, education. The pupil in this story, adapted by Fever Pitch writer Nick Hornby from journalist Lynn Barber’s memoirs, is a schoolgirl called Jenny with aspirations of going to Cambridge. Jenny is played by rising Brit star Carey Mulligan whose winning turn brought comparisons with Winona Ryder when the film received its world premiere at Sundance.
As with Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, the real lessons in life are those received outside of the classroom and it’s Jenny’s misfortune that she meets older seducer David, played by a Peter Sarsgaard on top form. The American actor is always pleasing whenever he plays characters with an evil twinkle in his eye (Boys Don’t Cry, Shattered Glass) and here as the cad David he woos Jenny with straightforward charm and a hunter’s instinct. It’s a similar role to (but a completely different take on) the one played by Michael Fassbender in Fish Tank. Scherfig manages this relationship superbly and it’s this central lesson that makes An Education a film that will delight both the young and old. The director clearly has great sympathy with Jenny, who importantly is shown as a maturing young lady confused by life and love rather than as a schoolgirl fantasist.
This is classic storytelling from the school of Alfred Hitchcock, in which the audience is aware that David is bad news, unable to do anything but hope that the lesson Jenny is about to learn doesn’t prove too traumatic. In the end, the film contains too many stereotypical characters and clichés to beguile us away from the core subject. Jenny has to fight against the traditional outlook of her parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) and her own insecurities, especially when David takes her out on the town with his alluring friends (Rosamund Pyke and Dominic Cooper). Emma Thompson pops up as a classic stern headmistress while Olivia Williams plays the teacher that Jenny can turn to in times of need. B.
(12A) 99min. General release from Fri 30 Oct.