An Education

9 Jan

Director: Lone Scherfig (2009)

As the product of an all girl’s school myself, I found myself spending/wasting many of my formative years with boys a fair bit older than myself. In the classroom I was the straight A student, at the weekend… I became the master of elaborate spin, convincing my mother (to this day) that I was a fan of sleepovers at my best friend’s house until I was about 16 years old. Only part of the statement was a lie. At the time, I remember thinking these were the types of boys we should definitely be hanging out with as nubile mid-teens, boys who could get served in bars, knew the cool parties, had jobs, could drive. All the key components. But in retrospect, these brief love affairs that all too often destroyed my fragile little heart upon the realisation that we actually had nothing of substance in common – me wanting to go to university, to travel, them wanting to eternally cruise around the dives of Manchester – in fact proved as a propellant to leave my life in Manchester and do the very things that have ended up defining me today.

Deep.

The point of this brief excerpt from my dubious girl’s school past is to provide the background as to why watching Lone Scherfig’s An Education was more than just a cinematic experience for me, instead making me look back and be thankful for those ridiculous decisions I made with boys back then…because other people made them too.

Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a 15 year old school girl, a bright spark at a prestigious girl’s school, in love with all things French, slipping it into her vernacular at any given opportunity, old records and Pre-Raphelite art, preparing to apply for Oxford. When she meets David (the heartbreakingly beautiful Peter Sarsgaard), with all his dangerous charm, his style and his sports car, Jenny falls hard. Clearly a lot older than she, but never specified, their relationship is never seedy or uncomfortable. Jenny is an old soul while David possesses the airy joie de vie of an eager child, a modern day dandy, introducing her to the sights and sounds and art auctions of swinging London with his beautiful friends, Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Helen (Rosamund Pike).

Blinded by the sparkle, she allows herself to be carried along by their rambunctious life until she finds out just how David has been able to afford all these lavish gifts, nights at the best restaurants and jaunts to Paris… Turns out David is a little more free-wheeling as Jenny would hope.

The film, the music, the clothes are all simply beautiful, capturing not only the vibe and atmosphere of 60s Britain but also that breathless feeling of falling in love. Watching Jenny look at David through adoring eyes is almost painful to watch, almost too familiar. The allure and seduction of the older man, whose life always seems so exotic and appealing from a school classroom, is almost suffocating and I found myself actively encouraging Jenny to give it up and run away with him. Which she inevitably does. As we all would. I know I would. For me, an unsung highlight from An Education comes in the shape of Miss Stubbs played by the beautifully ‘dowdied’ Olivia Williams. Her concern for Jenny as she gallivants around town with her now infamous older boyfriend is the concern her mother should be expressing – unfortunately her mother has similarly fallen for David’s charms. Not quite in the same way as Jenny… but enough for her to approve of their relationship! Miss Stubbs’ quiet concern comes with the unspoken implication that perhaps she too was once in Jenny’s position, seduced by the older man with all his perks, casting its shimmering shadow over his flaws and limitations, a thought which makes her advice and relationship with Jenny all the more poignant. And perhaps explains why Jenny listens to the advice.

While we can all predict how the film ends, it never descends into a cliché, or even an ‘I told you so’. Instead, we see a lesson learned but in no way regretted. It is this that I found struck the hardest chord with me – yes we all make suspect decisions as young girls, yes we may temporarily be diverted from our ‘track’ but sometimes we need that handsome stranger to shake us up and send us along the new direction. Even if that is the opposite direction to them. Unfortunately my handsome strangers were not quite as handsome as Sarsgaard, nor did they take me to Paris or know what a Burne-Hones was. As Jenny, and myself, discovered arriving at university having lived the life of another, you may not be quite as “fresh-faced and wide eyed” as the other students – but who is going to tell?

An amazing film that serves as proof that sometimes the bad decisions are not always ones to be avoided.

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