Tagline: Sometimes an education isn’t always by the book.
“An Education” is the story of a teenage girl’s coming-of-age set in 1961 London, a city caught between the drab, post-war 1950s and the glamorous, more liberated decade to come.
It’s 1961 and attractive, bright 16-year-old schoolgirl, Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is poised on the brink of womanhood, dreaming of a rarefied, Gauloise-scented existence as she sings along to Juliette Greco in her Twickenham bedroom. Stifled by the tedium of adolescent routine, Jenny can’t wait for adult life to begin. Meanwhile, she’s a diligent student, excelling in every subject except the Latin that her father is convinced will land her the place she dreams of at Oxford University.
One rainy day, her suburban life is upended by the arrival of an unsuitable suitor, 30- ish David (Peter Sarsgaard). Urbane and witty, David instantly unseats Jenny’s stammering schoolboy admirer, Graham (Matthew Beard). To her frank amazement, he even manages to charm her conservative parents Jack (Alfred Molina) and Marjorie (Cara Seymour), and effortlessly overcomes any instinctive objections to their daughter’s older, Jewish suitor.
Very quickly, David introduces Jenny to a glittering new world of classical concerts and late-night suppers with his attractive friend and business partner, Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Danny’s girlfriend, the beautiful but vacuous Helen (Rosamund Pike). David replaces Jenny’s traditional education with his own version, picking her up from school in his Bristol roadster and whisking her off to art auctions and smoky clubs.
Under the pretext of an introduction to C.S. Lewis, David arranges to take Jenny on a weekend jaunt to Oxford with Danny and Helen. Later, using an ingenious mixture of flattery and fibbery, he persuades her parents to allow him to take their only daughter to Paris for her 17th birthday. David suggests that his “Aunt Helen” will once again act as a chaperone. Jack and Marjorie do not know that Jenny has chosen the date and place to lose her virginity.
Paris is all that Jenny imagined it would be, sex with David somewhat less so. On her return to Twickenham, Jenny’s school friends are thrilled with her newfound sophistication but her headmistress (Emma Thompson) is scandalised and her English teacher Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams) is deeply disappointed that her prize pupil seems determined to throw away her evident gifts and certain chance of higher education. Just as the family’s long-held dream of getting their brilliant daughter into Oxford seems within reach, Jenny is tempted by another kind of life. Will David be the making of Jenny or her undoing?
An Education is a 2009 coming-of-age drama film based on a memoir of the same name by British journalist Lynn Barber. The film was directed by Lone Scherfig from a screenplay by Nick Hornby. It stars Carey Mulligan as Jenny, a bright schoolgirl, and Peter Sarsgaard as David, the charming con man who seduces her. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards in 2010: Best Picture and Writing (Adapted Screenplay) for Nick Hornby, and Best Actress for Carey Mulligan.
An Education premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. It screened on 10 September 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival and was featured at the Telluride by the Sea Film Festival in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, US, on 19 September 2009. The film was shown on 9 October 2009, at the Mill Valley Film Festival. An Education grossed £1,633,504 in the UK. and $US26,096,852 worldwide.
About the Film
The extent to which I never asked him questions is astonishing in retrospect – I blame Albert Camus…One of the rules of existentialism as practised by me and my disciples at Lady Eleanor Holles School was that you never asked questions. Asking questions showed that you were naïve and bourgeois; not asking questions showed that you were sophisticated and French. I badly wanted to be sophisticated. Lynn Barber, An Education
“I’m still not entirely sure what it was about Lynn Barber’s piece that had such a strong pull on me, but quite clearly there was one,” says screenwriter Nick Hornby. “I read it and gave it to my wife, Amanda Posey who is one of the producers, saying, ‘Look, there’s a film in here.’ She agreed and with Finola Dwyer, her fellow producer, started thinking about writers. I was aware that I was becoming envious – ‘what do you want that loser for!?’ – that sort of thing. So I said I wanted to have a go at it.”
“I always thought I must remember at some point to write the whole story of my first boyfriend as I always thought it was extraordinary,” says journalist Lynn Barber of her brief memoir. “The only person I’d told was my husband because it was such a long and complicated story – you couldn’t really just tell someone casually over dinner or something. It was almost like a secret I’d been carrying around with me.”
“Perhaps what drew me to the piece most of all was that Lynn Barber has a very strong, sometimes confrontational voice in her profiles so when I saw that she’d written about her early life, I thought, Ah, I’d like to know about that!” says Hornby. “People who read her have interest in her, but Lynn has always kept herself out of her journalism and I was fascinated to find out about this story.”
Hornby continues: “It was always going to be a long shot – adapting 10 or 12 pages in a literary magazine – but it really was a labour of love. I felt that I understood Jenny’s life; I was a suburban boy and my parents didn’t go to university. I liked the richness of the dilemma which is, in some ways, ‘life vs. education’. I was convinced that I could write a screenplay that would amplify Lynn’s piece and make it interesting cinematically.”
Describing the period in which AN EDUCATION is set, all of the filmmakers are quick to point out that Britain hadn’t actually started swinging in 1961. Four years on from Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s claim that ‘most of our people have never had it so good,’ the average English family continued to lead buttoned-up, thrifty lives. Preoccupied as they were with changing social and sexual mores, most people were in no hurry to embrace them.
“Every time people talk about the Sixties, I want to scream,” says Barber. “The Sixties didn’t actually start until around ’63 or ’64. It was still pretty drab before that.” Hornby quotes Philip Larkin’s, ‘Annus Mirabilis’:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three…
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
“For me, one of the points of the film and one of the attractions of the setting was that in 1962, we were still stuck in post-war austerity Britain,” says Hornby. “At the time, England was an extremely insular country, quite a poor country. The Second World War made America, and their ‘50s – those big cars and the rock ‘n’ roll – were a product of doing well. Over there, it was all about Cadillacs. Here in Britain, we were still waiting for a bus.”
“I previously made a film which took place in Denmark in 1957 so I know something about the fear of excess, the shadow of the war and the very simple fantasy lives that people led then,” says director Lone Scherfig. “But of course, I didn’t know London so I was cautious, careful to get everything right. I was watching carefully to make sure that anyone who wasn’t English or from Twickenham or 16 years old in 1962 could understand what was going on. We tried to really get the flavour of the time because, to a certain extent, we all believed that the story could only take place then if audiences were expected to identify with it now.“
“It’s very hard for us now to realise how close together things happened. If you look back from now to the late 80s, for example, it seems incredibly recent times to those of us of a certain age,” says Hornby. “That’s the distance between this period and the beginning of the Second World War. We had rationing into the mid-50s; it was very hard to travel abroad because of currency regulations, very little variety of food was available – there were so many things we didn’t have in this country.”
Carey Mulligan who stars as suburban schoolgirl Jenny recognises that the journey of her character, although based on Barber’s real-life experience, can be seen as a metaphor for the period: “As well as being a coming-of-age story for Jenny, it’s a coming-of-age story for the Sixties,” she says. “Everyone said, ‘Oh, you’re doing a Sixties film!’ I said, ‘No, it’s not flower power and stuff; it’s before that.’ So they said, ‘What happened before that?’ And I replied, ‘Not much!’”
“Jenny’s parents, Jack and Marjorie, are very much a product of their time,” says Hornby. “But Jenny is just beginning to chafe against it and David is the perfect conduit – somebody to lead her out of the ‘50s and into the ‘60s. It’s almost as if the ‘Swinging Sixties’ are arriving in Jack and Marjorie’s kitchen in Twickenham a few years before they arrive in anyone else’s,” says Hornby.
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An Education (2009)
Directed by: Lone Scherfig
Starring: An Education, An Education 2009, Peter Sarsgaard, Rosumund Pike, Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, Carey Mulligan, Dominic Cooper, Alfred Molina, Sally Hawkins, Matthew Beard, Ellie Kendrick, Kate Duchêne, Rosamund Pike
Screenplay by: Nick Hornby
Production Design by: Andrew McAlpine
Cinematography by: John de Borman
Film Editing by: Barney Pilling
Costume Design by: Odile Dicks-Mireaux
Set Decoration by; Anna Lynch-Robinson
Art Direction by: Ben Smith
Music by; Paul Englishby
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexual content, for smoking,
Distributed by; Sony Pictures Classics
Release Date: October 9, 2009