AN EDUCATION Sundance Review

     January 26, 2009

Written by Cady Heron

From the very first moments of the opening credits until the last frame, An Education is as pitch-perfect as it is entertaining. A coming-of-age story set in 1961 London, the film stars Carey Mulligan as 16-year-old Jenny, a bright but sheltered schoolgirl with a penchant for all things French and a longing to be treated like an adult. Jenny’s wildest dreams come true when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), an alluring older man who takes an immediate interest in her.

David is everything Jenny is not: Jewish, uneducated, experienced. He has money; his friends (played by Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike) are beautiful and indulge in the finer things. With David, Jenny eats at the best restaurants, dresses in elegant clothing, and goes on exotic weekend getaways. Jenny’s goal until now has been acceptance to Oxford, but David’s world makes her wonder: of what real value is a traditional education, anyway?

All of the performances in this film are stellar. Sarsgaard is appropriately beguiling, Cooper intensely nuanced, and Pike both vibrant and obtuse. Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour play Jenny’s selectively overprotective parents, Olivia Williams is Jenny’s English teacher, and Emma Thompson plays the stern headmistress at Jenny’s school. Carey Mulligan is outstanding as Jenny—she allows us to watch her become a woman onscreen, the resulting portrayal intimate and lovingly crafted.

I truly loved this film. I’d heard praise for it rumbling around town, and I can now say it was all completely deserved. Directed by Lone Scherfig and with a screenplay by novelist Nick Hornby, An Education was also the winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award and the World Cinema Dramatic Cinematography Award at this year’s festival. And since it was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, it will most likely be making its way to a theater near you.

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