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A seductive education by a questionable character

December, 2009

You have to see An Education. I’ve gone twice and would see it again. The film is set in post-Second World War Britain, beautifully evoked by director Lone Scherfig. (I can vouch for it for I was a British university student at the time.) It’s all very convincing, yet it is a total fabrication, a believable fantasy based on sleight of hand.

To begin with the title: It is not the story of a winsome teenager’s education, but of her seduction by an obnoxious predator twice her age. His interest in Jenny is purely carnal, as revealed the tasteless production of a banana as a deflowering instrument. Yet Jenny is not a simple innocent led astray; she is well aware that David, beyond the charm, is a liar and a cheat whose “fun” lifestyle is based on defrauding vulnerable old ladies, but turns a blind eye to it anyway. Her parents exhibit human frailty in too easily being hoodwinked by David’s charisma. We, the audience, are initially charmed by him also and only latterly recognize how obnoxious he is.

It’s a great film with impressive casting: Alfred Molina as the weak but heavy father; Cara Seymour as the mum; school teachers Olivia Williams and the formidable Emma Thompson; Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike as Danny and Helen, friends of David (Peter Sarsgaard), the antagonist; and Jenny (Carey Mulligan), the enchanting protagonist.

As good as this film is, there is room for criticism. Mulligan, who is 24, does not come across as a teenager. Her gestures and demeanour are far too well developed for the role. In a way, this is necessary for the plot, for if she looked too young, we would immediately recognize David as the sexual deviant he is, which would show the filmmaker’s hand. While her home in the suburbs is convincing, one has to wonder whether this bright and wide awake girl could be a product of such a stultifying environment. Furthermore, even though David only used his house in the same suburb as a stopover between his serial seductions, one would imagine he would be far too sophisticated to have chosen such a house in such a suburb.

It is clear that David’s wife was fully cognizant of his philandering, and the fact that she remained with him is hard to believe. Perhaps she is a product of a pre-feminist age. It is also clear that David’s friends Danny and Helen were aware of Jenny’s seduction, but while they say they do not want her to be hurt, in actuality they encourage David to groom her for her role.

Finally, to live in Oxford to attend the university (the parents’ goal for Jenny) is extremely expensive, and Jenny’s family is far from rich. The cost of living would have put it out of reach. One of the many good but less prestigious universities in Greater London would have been more realistic – but would have done less for the story.



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