Starring Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard. Rated PG. Opens Friday, October 23, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas
A sweet surface shields a much thornier interior in An Education, a potent coming-of-age saga based on the memoir of Lynn Barber, a tough British journalist with the good luck to see her work adapted by screenwriter Nick Hornby and smart Danish director Lone Scherfig, who made Italian for Beginners.
Watch the trailer for An Education.
The author, here called Jenny, is also fortunate to be played, in the still-grey London of 1961, by dimpled Carey Mulligan, whose effervescent turn as a middle-class ingénue who sings along with Juliette Gréco records and dreams of the Left Bank is inviting comparisons to the young Audrey Hepburn. She is perhaps more reminiscent of Wendy Hiller, of I Know Where I’m Going and Major Barbara, who often played British women smart enough to make plans, change them when needed, and not rely on good looks to make things happen.
Our precocious teen is prepping for Oxford when she bumps into David (Peter Sarsgaard, sporting a credible accent), a socially connected player twice her age. The resulting liaison should be taboo, but her timid, socially striving parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour, both superb) are easily bowled over by his sports car and elegant manners. His closest friends (Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike) are posh, too, but they appear to be on some kind of hustle.
Jenny’s gradual recognition of David’s duplicity leads to a few weak encounters, with dialogue including lazy modernisms. Most of this Education is spot-on, however; it perfectly captures the dullness of pre-Beatles Britain and the limited options available to females at that time. Emma Thompson plays a disapproving headmistress who scoffs at Jenny’s future, and in their brief scenes together, the movie is strong enough to make you think both women know something true about life.