I remember when "An Education" came out and like so often is the case there was an inordinate amount of praise for both the movie and the performance of the relatively unknown Carey Mulligan. As has been the case I avoided watching "An Education" because of all that praise, sounds daft but far too often I have been disappointed by these popular movies which have been over praised by people who get hooked on one thing and not the big picture. Having finally got around to watching it I have to say that "An Education" is a surprisingly good movie which whilst well acted by all and having a good storyline works because of a captivating Carey Mulligan.
Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is the perfect student, she may struggle with Latin but she excels in everything else much to her father Jack's (Alfred Molina) pride as he is pushing her for a scholarship to Oxford. It is his desire to see Jenny succeed which makes him dislike Graham (Matthew Beard), a young boy who is fond of her because he is not so focussed and a bit inept. But then enter David (Peter Sarsgaard), 14 years older than Jenny and a real charmer who not only sweeps Jenny of her feet but also her middle classed parents who wouldn't usually allow Jenny out on a school night but lets David take her out. Not only that they allow David to take her to Oxford for a weekend where it becomes apparent to Jenny that David hopes to sleep with her.
Now story wise I know that the synopsis makes "An Education" sound like a movie about a 30 year old predator with a fondness for a 16 year old school girl and that is part of the story. But that is just the root of the story because it evolves from there as Jenny has a very different world opened up to her one with joys such as going to night clubs and going away with David and his friends and one of darkness where she discovers the truth about him and what he does. It also turns the story on its head as Jenny at ties seems to use David to live this wonderful life she has been introduced to.
The thing though about "An Education" is that whilst it is a coming of age movie it is one of the most beautifully shot movies I have seen in a long time. It certainly helps that the story is based in the 60s and so there is a touch of nostalgic glamour to it but every scene is so beautifully crafted. There is a European feel to it with a romanticism which sucks you in to so many scenes and has that gentle humorous touch as we witness how Jenny's father becomes a bumbling fool around David. In some ways it is a bit too polished, a bit too nostalgically romantic in look but then it is so beautiful it is not a huge issue.
But there is also the matter of the acting and throughout "An Education" is full of great performances; Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson are all on fine form delivering rounded characters even in minor roles. Then there is Peter Sarsgaard as David, a real charmer, a smooth operator who even when you know he is a predator manages to charm you. But the star of the movie is quite simply Carey Mulligan who plays Jenny as a sophisticated teenager who has a desire to experience the life she never imagined having prior to meeting David. It is such a captivating performance from Mulligan who it has to be said has a touch of Audrey Hepburn about her making her both smart yet also a little naive.
What this all boils down to is that "An Education" is a captivating movie which in fairness deserves all the praise it has had lavished on it. But it is the performance of Carey Mulligan combined with great artistic direction which lifts it to the point of being worth numerous viewings.