Monday, February 15, 2010

An Education (2009)

Last year the Sunday Times journalist Lynn Barber wrote of the relationship she formed with a much older man back in 1961 when she was a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl:

"What did I get from Simon? An education -- the thing my parents always wanted me to have... I learned about expensive restaurants and luxury hotels and foreign travel, I learned about antiques and Bergman films and classical music. But actually there was a much bigger bonus than that. My experience with Simon entirely cured my craving for sophistication. By the time I got to Oxford, I wanted nothing more than to meet kind, decent, straightforward boys my own age, no matter if they were gauche or virgins. I would marry one eventually and stay married all my life and for that, I suppose, I have Simon to thank."

Nick Hornby has taken Barber's short memoir and worked it into a screenplay which examines the nature of the schoolgirl's dangerous pact with sophistication. For it to work we have to be taken by Jenny (the fictional Lynn Barber) and not completely repelled by the sly skirt chaser whose most cruel seduction is the surely one he practices on her parents. Although a victim of withheld information, Jenny is also very much a willing participant in the enchantment David profers, and is crucially permitted to see quite early on that almost every other aspect of his existence involves dishonesty and deception.

This is a very watchable movie and the buzz surrounding Carey Mulligan's performance is entirely justified. Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike and Olivia Williams are also outstanding. In fact, the whole cast is superb.

My one reservation is the sense I had that Hornby has used the source material in order to serve us up instances of set piece dialogue that are never far from light-hearted comedy, and that some of the darker truths of this tale have thereby been sacrificed. An Education has a fondness for its characters and its period that, rather like Jenny's fondness for Paris, is just a little bit naïve.

Grade: A--

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