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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Review: An Education (12A) ★★★★
A coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in 1960s suburban London.

About a month ago I saw An Education in the sale and after half-remembering a friend’s recommendation I bought it on blu-ray and stuck it on my bookcase, where it sat in its cellophane wrapper until last night.

Had I taken the opportunity to read the back of the blu-ray case sooner and therefore notice its screenplay writer/director, my viewing of the film would have followed a very different chronology.

Nick Hornby is without doubt one of my favourite authors. One of my Top Five Favourite Books of All Time (intertextuality intended) is High Fidelity and when it was made into a film back in 2000 it instantly made my Top Five Films as well. Although Hornby had not written its screenplay directly, it had been so loyally transcribed from his novel that the quality of Hornby’s work shone through.

In An Education the same level of commitment to character, genre, setting and dialogue is prevalent and this makes for an engrossing and polished film as Hornby adapts Lynn Barber’s touching memoir for the big screen.

The story of An Education centres around schoolgirl Jenny (Carey Mulligan) and her coming-of-age romance with the older, roguish David (Peter Sarsgaard) against the backdrop of 1960’s London. The central core of the film revolves around this relationship, its highs and lows and the effect it has on both Jenny’s school life and her adolescence as a whole.

As the movie started, what struck me was its use of colour to establish mood and setting. There are far too many films out there that paint a picture of the 1960’s as some technicolour lovefest that never dipped below neon pink on the spectrum. What An Education does in contrast to this (literally) is employ an almost uniform beige approach, using muted tones and shades to illustrate the quiet, laborious frustration of the suburban schoolgirl living with her parents. This realistic use of mood and hue sets up an enormous focus on detail and more importantly – characterisation.

There are a multitude of clichéd schoolgirl films where the protagonist struggles against The Establishment only to finally emerge victorious in some overly dramatic finale. An Education is not one of those films. It is however a clever, gripping portrayal of a girl who is desperately reaching towards an adult life and relationship which ultimately proves to be beyond her years. Although the cynics in the audience will be calling the ending on this film early through personal experience, it is testament to An Education that it keeps that very same viewer hooked and entertained throughout its one hundred minute running time.

By sweeping across a gamut of emotion that we’ve all felt, especially in our youth, this film shines a tender light on the difficult situation of growing-up and becoming an adult. This is particularly effective when set against the social attitudes and prejudices of a decade still mired in sexism and traditional values. Whilst there are plenty of moments of subtle humour, this movie’s real strength is its heart and its ability to reach back to a time when we all sought more than packed lunches, pocket money and P.E. on a Friday afternoon.

An Education is a bittersweet reminder of the rebellious, awkward days between childhood and adulthood, blending comedy and genuinely heartfelt emotion to connect to its audience on a subject to which we can all relate. If you’re looking for a movie with strong production values, great dialogue and storytelling which is simultaneously sensitive and engaging, this is definitely for you.

Review Submitted and Rated by: Dave Gledhill


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