Based on the memoirs of journalist Lynn Barber, An Education is a powerful evocation of the early 1960s in suburbia, seen through the eyes of a young woman.
Teenager Jenny (Carey Mulligan – Sally Sparrow from the excellent Doctor Who episode, Blink) dreams of a life beyond the dull, drab walls of her suburban home where dad (Alfred Molina) and mum (Cara Seymour) bang on about the importance of education and follow the same routine day in and day out. Jenny wants to be enlightened and dreams of travelling the world having adventures. When she meets the much older charmer David (Peter Sarsgaard) she believes all her dreams have come true in one day, for not only is David dashing and handsome, he leads an exotic existence so different from her own it seems almost alien.
Jenny is soon rushing around with David’s friend Danny (Dominic Cooper) and his dim but pretty girlfriend Helen (Rosamund Pike) being wined and dined, travelling in expensive sports cars and visiting nightclubs. Her parents are as charmed by the urbane David as she is, but a tarnish soon begins to spoil Jenny’s dream as she learns David is not as wonderful as he makes himself out to be.
The film captures the spirit of the times effortlessly and perfectly and though it makes many telling general points about the 1960s, at its core it’s really all about the lot of women as Britain started to move out of the austere post-war years into the 60s.
Jenny wants so much more from life than her mother and Carey Mulligan absolutely captures her ingenue quality – she is sparky and fun, yet innocent and gauche. When Jenny becomes engaged to David, her teacher (a rather nice cameo from Olivia Williams) tries to explain why education is so important. When Jenny says she does not wish to be a teacher like her she replies “it doesn’t have to be teaching, there is the civil service”.
As always, Alfred Molina is wonderful as Jenny’s circumspect and rather obnoxious father and of the supporting cast Rosamund Pike really shines as Helen, demonstrating great comic timing.
An Education proves period drama doesn’t have to be all about bonnets and taking tea – this movie is like a time capsule giving an insight into a decade just half a century back from our own and yet seemingly light years away.