Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina and Emma Thompson.
Direction: Lone Scherfig
The British movie, An Education, may appear like a piece of symphony playing the first love notes of a 16-going-on-17 Carey Mulligan's Jenny, living in a 1961 dowdy London suburb and attending an even duller school in suitably unattractive grey uniform. But scratch the surface of the celluloid to discover that Nick Hornby's screenplay (adapted from the childhood memoirs of a well known U.K. journalist, Lynn Barber) underlines the post-war yearning, even desperation, of the English middleclass for a better social life. For Jenny's war-scarred, hardworking and sacrificing father, Jack (Alfred Molina), such upward mobility can happen through an Oxford education for her.
However, as much as Jenny would want that as well - her brilliant grades, except in Latin, at school being an enormous plus point here - she finds that there can be an easier and a far more exciting way to climb the ladder and savour life's goodies. In drives David (Peter Sarsgaard) in a fancy car on a rainy-soaked afternoon offering a cold, shivering Jenny, armed with a cello, a ride back home. When she hesitates, he chivalrously says he will carry the musical instrument in his car so that it does not get wet.
It does not take long for David to sweet talk his way with her and her parents. They meekly agree to whatever he wishes. And these include visits to fascinating concerts, a trip to Oxford followed by another romantic journey to Paris. The girl is understandably thrilled by all this attention that comes not just from David, but also her schoolmates, who look at her with awe and a wit bit of jealousy. The game that David plays with little thought to conscience includes his "magnanimity" in letting Jenny keep her virginity till her 17th birthday, which though is only round the corner. She finds herself so deeply in love that even the thefts of art objects from empty houses that pay for his extravagant style do not quite put off Jenny. It would take a nastier incident to shake her out of a sweet reverie that she presumes is reality and life. She finally understands that David's education of life's little pleasures is not quite a substitute for Oxford.
Jenny's father in particular and her school headmistress (Emma Thompson) merely speed up her run towards temptation: one tacitly encourages her hoping that David's wealth would help the family's social fortunes, while the other in her blinded obstinacy to pull the flying girl to the ground only manages to push her away from the school and its reliable environs. And Jenny is only a child who cannot easily distinguish charm from wile.
Lone Scherfig's An Education captures the period through a splendid setting that recreates the angst of Victorian England: the struggle between the classes and the conflict between romantic love and sexual passion. Giving life to this delightful coming-of-age story is Mulligan, whose early Audrey Hepburn hairdo and rivetingly charming performance (that has won her an Oscar nod for Best Actress) remind us of a cinema that was genteel and touching.
Gautaman Bhaskaran has been watching the Oscars for years