Set in the early 1960’s, when the Beatles were still in Hamburg and Free Love was only a few years away from rattling the world, Lone Scherfig gracefully brings Lynn Barber’s memoir of her tumultuous teenage years to life in this bitter-sweet coming of age British drama.
Every teenager can relate to Jenny (Carey Mulligan); a very bright but equally vulnerable 16 year old girl, longing for excitement. With gloomy grey weather looming above, Jenny lives in a quiet middle class London suburb; suffocating under the pressure from pushy parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) to get the grades to attend Oxford. However, Jenny finds solace through her love of sophisticated French culture that pulses to the alluring sound of Juliette Greco. Her hopes of becoming a worldly young woman appears by chance in the form of a seductive older man driving a flashy car; David (Peter Sarsgaard) who whisks Jenny away on an exhilarating whirlwind of exotic, artistic adventure that liberates her from the stuffy confines of Latin homework and late night cramming for exams! Heartbreakingly, this glamorous dreamworld is fragile; visits to cool London Jazz clubs and impulsive trips to Paris all glazed with the dizzying feeling of first love deludes Jenny (and even her parents!) to an agonizing extent, with life altering consequences.
This is definitely an important film for young girls to see. It’s emotionally poignant and filled with gorgeous cinematography, beautiful costumes, a suave 60’s soundtrack and fantastic performances. Carey Mulligan shines amongst a star studded cast in her breakthrough, Oscar nominated performance as Jenny that reminded me a lot of a young Audrey Hepburn! She was exceptional in this film, creating a character with a giggly adolescent naivety balanced with complex sophistication and admirable integrity. There were brilliant performances all round from the supporting cast, most notably Peter Sarsgaard, who managed to make quite a sleazy character likeable! Also from Alfred Molina who played Jenny’s penny pinching Dad and Rosamund Pike, playing the ditzy but loveable Helen, one of David’s glamorous friends. Emma Thompson also appears in a small, but scene stealing cameo!
Nick Hornby’s (author of About a Boy) charming screenplay manages to entwine witty humour within such a poignant, stirring story; the more dramatic moments of the film being depicted with gut wrenching realism and also a really moving, almost melancholic delicacy without ever falling into the trap of being overly sentimental. It’s so beautifully written! One of my favourite lines in the whole movie was when Jenny turns to her English teacher, Miss Stubbs and says with a sweet sense of irony; ‘I feel old, but not very wise’. I doubt there’s anyone who can’t at one point or another have related to that feeling.
What I loved most about the character of Jenny was that she defied most conceptions of teenage girls in films, who are more often than not depicted as accessories to the plot rather than fully developed characters. In recent years however, charismatic teen girls have started to appear more regularly on the silver screen, Jason Reitman’s Oscar winning ‘Juno’ (starring Ellen Page) being one of the best examples. Jenny is also among these inspiring young women that, I think, are increasing in cinema today. According to director Lone Scherfig, Hornby drew a lot of parallels with Jane Austen’s female protagonists in the way that the story focusses on ‘A heroine trying to find an identity that she can’t describe’.
I completely agree with this, as similarly to how Austen’s writing is undoubtedly timeless, An Education artfully displays universal themes that every teenager all over the world, across time can identify with, such as rebellion and self-discovery. With this view in mind, it can also be argued that Jenny symbolises the bohemian ideals that would come to shatter 1950’s stereotyping of women during the 1960s, against an intoxicating backdrop of psychedelic music and Flower Power.
An Education is a classic of the coming of age genre! Every teenage girl should see this film, I would even go as far as to call it a rite of passage.
By Angel Lloyd
Angel Lloyd is 18 and lives in Newcastle though is currently studying at University of York. A graduate of Northern Stars Documentary Academy and the BFI Screenwriting Academy, she is known amongst family and friends as a film fanatic, her infinite list of favourite movies including: Rear Window, Across the Universe, Pulp Fiction and Silver Linings Playbook. Stuck on an island, she would be content with her two favourite albums, T Rex’s The Slider and The Beatles’ Revolver. Whilst making short films, designing movie posters, blogging at gentlysleeping.tumblr.com , film reviewing at fine-wines-available-to-humanity.tumblr.com and occasionally quoting Withnail, she also finds the time to obsess over Breaking Bad, Sweeney Todd and Baz Luhrmann films.