Written by Nick Hornby

Directed by Lone Scherfig

 Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard




An Education




“An Education” is the story of what happens when a great director, the Danish Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners” and “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself”) has to make a film with the wrong cast because the studio won’t give her the proper actors. “An Education” has all the power and even some moments of charm and wit as well as the dark undercurrent of Lynn Barber’s memoir, but with the wrong cast trying to act like the right one.

A 16-year-old girl in 1961 London, Jenny (Carey Mulligan, who by my reckoning is actually 26 and looks it), is picked up by a man (Peter Sarsgaard, who also by my reckoning is now 38 and is unfortunately going to fat), who seduces her because she is a young woman whose dreams and fantasies are as real to her as the lessons in school, and he is a man who lives for the seduction of young women. She is headed for Oxford, where among her choices are young, pimply-faced, innocent, even virginal boys. She’s beyond that, she thinks. And David, her older seducer, takes her to auctions, to concerts, even to Paris for a weekend. Is there something wrong with that? Yes, of course: even we can see that he’s not whom he says he is. But he charms her parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour), who’ve been almost over-protective of Jenny. By the time he’s through with her it’s as though they weren’t parents at all, but an older couple who live at the same address she does.

Meanwhile her teacher (Olivia Williams)and her school’s principal (Emma Thompson) are quite clear-eyed about what’s happening, but cannot stop a 16-year-old’s hormones from determining what she will do. It’s not as though this has never happened before; it happens, no doubt, a lot. And it’s not as though Jenny’s adventure with David has no value to her; she did, after all, visit Paris with him – a dream he made come true for her. But when the revelations come out as to who he really is, we’re already ahead of her, simply waiting for the plot to inform us what a cad he is.

“An Education” is one of those near-misses that this year has been full of; we don’t want to put it down or diminish it, but we do wish that Scherfig had had the opportunity to cast it the way she wanted to; then it might well have been a masterpiece.