In “An Education” Carey Mulligan plays a girl who longs for a life of sophistication, and then has second thoughts when she gets it. (Images courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)
Carey Mulligan stars as Jenny, a bright teenager who, in the London of 1961, is tantalized by the world just beyond her grasp.
She is immersed in taking classes to prepare her for the Oxford entrance exams, but still finds time to lie on the floor of her bedroom listening to Juliette Greco, and dreaming of a sophisticated life far from her overbearing father (played with perfect pomposity by Alfred Molina.)
Her dreams apparently come true one day when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), a man almost twice her age. He takes her to concerts after having charmed her parents, and introduces her to nightclubs, and a life of excitement which Jenny finds increasingly hard to leave to return to her studies.
Of course David is too good to be true, leaving Jenny with some difficult decisions. Her education in the university of life is both eye=-opening and chastening.
Director Lone Scherfig uses the Nick Hornby script, and a cast which also includes Dominic Cooper, Emma Thompson, and Sally Hawkins to great effect.
While the world of the film may be inhabited by sultry songstresses like Juliette Greco, it is also the Britain which was still recovering from the horrors and hardships of World War II, mixed with the growing realization that the Empire was gone, and the pressure of post-colonial responsibilities are growing. Scherfig gives Jenny glimpses of that new reality, and maybe even some 21st century viewers too.
It is however Mulligan who shines, taking her character from a state of naive self-confidence, through a series of switches and false starts to that of a wiser, worldly young woman. This is Mulligan’s first starring role, but will surely not be her last.