Carey Mulligan was easily the best thing about the mostly lifeless lit’ry SF film Never Let Me Go, so I decided to go back and see the film that put her on the map, An Education (2008). It’s a well executed, if unsurprising, coming-of-age period piece about gender roles in early 1960s England.
Mulligan plays Jenny Mellor, a sixteen-year-old high school student with the academic chops to go to Oxford — a life-track her stodgy, conservative father Jack (Alfred Molina) seems hellbent on steering her down. Jenny’s life takes an unexpected turn, however, when charming older man David (Peter Sarsgaard) enters her life. He wins her over quickly — not to mention, after initial reservations, her parents — and sweeps her into a glamorous new social circle of posh night clubs, fancy restaurants, and high art. Seduced by this shortcut to the life she thinks she wants, Jenny finds herself challenging conventional wisdom as she confronts a life-changing decision — whether to follow her heart, or to stay on the path of hard work and academics.
An Education doesn’t really do anything new, but it achieves its aims quite well. I was a bit put off by the creepy, schoolgirl-falls-for-slick-thirtysomething romance, although I do think it’s central to the story. Meanwhile the production is assured and the acting is top notch, especially from Mulligan and Molina. Beyond the performances, I don’t think you’re missing much if you don’t see this, but you could do much worse than to give it a look.