In 1960, Lynn Barber was a 16-year-old schoolgirl in Twickenham, a suburb of London, with good grades and big dreams of attending Oxford University. She was swept off her provincial feet by a thirty-something cad named Simon Goldman, whose charm, sophistication and worldly ways were nothing like the young innocent had ever encountered.
Barber, who later became one of England's top journalists, wrote a memoir of her two years in Goldman's sway. Best-selling novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) turned it into this screenplay, changing the principle names to Jenny and David.
The story remains essentially unchanged. An Education, were it fiction, would be utterly unbelievable. Played by Peter Sarsgaard, an American actor whose dodgy British accent is the only off-note in the film, David oozes oily charm, and it's easy to understand how Jenny (the delightful Carey Mulligan, in her first movie role) could see him as her way out of the boring and predictable future her parents have planned for her.
Jenny's life is all about school recitals, Latin studies and awkward, pimply boys; David has a sports car, and groovy friends, and takes her to fine restaurants and classical music concerts. And then - ooh la la - to Paris!
Her parents, superbly played by Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour, are completely taken in by David, who glad-hands them, brings them gifts and feeds them lies. They approve of this older man seeing their virginal young daughter, in part because of David's smooth talk, and also because of an old English familial truism: If Jenny were to marry a rich man, why should she have to bother going to college? Molina, in particular, is spectacular as a working class man who wants the best for his daughter, but knows in his heart that he can't really afford it.
With small but dramatic turns by Emma Thompson and Olivia Williams as Jenny's headmistress and teacher, respectively, An Education is a wonderful example of how a strong cast can make a good film great. Between the likeable, natural performances of Mulligan, Sarsgaard (his accent notwithstanding) and Molina, you'll be so caught up in the story that you will not see the ending coming. -- Bill DeYoung