An Education, which has its UK premiere tonight at the London Film Festival, is based on a short memoir written by newspaper journalist Lynn Barber, which was published in Granta. The story was adapted for the screen by Nicky Hornby, and stars Carey Mulligan in an acclaimed turn as 16-year-old Jenny (based on the young Lynn), and Peter Sarsgaard as David, the older man who shows her what life is like beyond school and the suburbs.
The film is beautifully shot, and painstaking attention is paid to all of the 1961 period details. The Twickenham that Jenny lives in, and longs to escape from, is a little grey and generally rainy, while Paris and Oxford are bathed in colour, and the clubs and restaurants that David impresses her with are full of life and excitement, as opposed to the stiff, dull little gatherings she sits through at her parents’ table.
Hornby’s screenplay gives the lion’s share of hilarious line to the father, played by Alfred Molina, although the result is that we’re often laughing at him rather than with him, and, anyway, Jenny is more than capable of firing back the zings at her old stick-in-the-mud dad. His brilliant, brow-beating interrogation of one poor schoolboy would-be suitor is a lesson for all fathers.
Her mother, however, is consigned to the background, and the film takes a mostly subtle, but though-provoking, look at how the roles of women were changing at this time. Jenny’s mother is a housewife, and while the daughter goes out with David and his friends, the mother spends about three hours scrubbing grease off a casserole dish. Jenny returns to tell her mother that she’s just had the best night of her life; her mother looks at her daughter both fondly and sadly, while still keeping up the scrubbing.
Jenny’s dream is to go to Oxford to study English, and her Latin preparation, exams and even her place at school are derailed by David’s increasingly important presence in her life. Her headmistress (played by Emma Thompson in stern mode) faces her with a stark choice – early marriage to David, or gaining a degree. Both can’t be done. An infatuated Jenny derides the choices of the educated women at the school – including her own personal champion, Miss Stubbs, the English teacher – but David’s betrayal soon brings her to her senses. That familiar teenage feeling that everyone a bit older than you is having an amazing time and you need to get out there as soon as possible – yes, that one – had been blinding her, but, well, it all works out happily in the end. Just take a look at Lynn Barber’s wikipedia entry.