An Education is a 2009 British coming-of-age drama film, based on an autobiographical article in Granta by British journalist Lynn Barber. The film was directed by Lone Scherfig from a screenplay by Nick Hornby, and 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 2009 including Best Picture and Best Actress for Carey Mulligan.
An Education premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim. 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, USA, on 19 September 2009. The film was shown on 9 October 2009, at the Mill Valley Film Festival. It was released in the US on 16 October 2009 and in the UK on 30 October 2009.
In 1961 London, Jenny Mellor is a 16-year-old schoolgirl on track to enter Oxford University when she meets a charming Jewish conman, David Goldman, who pursues her romantically. He takes her to concerts, clubs, and fine restaurants, and easily charms her parents into approving of the relationship. Jenny recognizes that David is a con man who makes money through a variety of shady practices. She is initially shocked but silences her misgivings in the face of David's persuasive charm.
Soon, David takes Jenny to Paris as a birthday gift. Jenny's parents invite Graham, a boy Jenny knows from Youth Orchestra, to Jenny's birthday party, but David arrives and Graham goes home. When David proposes marriage, Jenny accepts and leaves school. She then discovers David is already married. When she reveals her discovery to David, he drops out of sight. Jenny despairs, feeling she has thrown her life away, but with the help of her favorite teacher, resumes her studies and is accepted at Oxford the following year.
- Carey Mulligan as Jenny Mellor
- Peter Sarsgaard as David Goldman
- Dominic Cooper as Danny, David's friend and partner in crime (Orlando Bloom was originally cast in this role, but dropped out before shooting began).
- Rosamund Pike as Helen, Danny's girlfriend.
- Alfred Molina as Jack Mellor, Jenny's father.
- Cara Seymour as Marjorie Mellor, Jenny's mother.
- Emma Thompson as Miss Walters, the headmistress at Jenny's school.
- Olivia Williams as Miss Stubbs, Jenny's concerned teacher.
- Sally Hawkins as Sarah Goldman, David's wife.
- Matthew Beard as Graham, a boy Jenny knows from the Youth Orchestra they play in.
- Ellie Kendrick as Tina, Jenny's friend from school.
- Beth Rowley as a nightclub singer.
Mulligan during a Q&A following the screening of An Education at the Ryerson Theatre on 25 September 2009. Nick Hornby created the screenplay based on an autobiographical essay by the British journalist Lynn Barber about her schoolgirl affair with Jewish conman Simon Prewalski, referred to by her as Simon Goldman, which was published in the literary magazine Granta. Barber's full memoir, An Education, was not published in book form until June 2009, when filming had already been completed. Hornby said that what appealed to him in the memoir was that "She's a suburban girl who's frightened that she's going to get cut out of everything good that happens in the city. That, to me, is a big story in popular culture. It's the story of pretty much every rock 'n' roll band." Although the screenplay involved Hornby writing about a teenage girl, he did not feel it was more challenging than writing any other character: "I think the moment you're writing about somebody who's not exactly you, then the challenge is all equal. I was glad that everyone around me on this movie was a woman so that they could watch me carefully. But I don't remember anyone saying to me, 'That isn't how women think.'"
Recreating 1961 England
Although Jenny's family home and her school are supposed to be in the suburb of Twickenham, Middlesex (incorrectly referred to as 'Twickenham, London' - Twickenham did not become part of Greater London till 1965), the residential scenes featured in the film were shot on location in the Gunnersbury area of Ealing, west London as well as Mattock Lane in West Ealing and The Japanese School in Acton, which used to be the site of the girls' school called Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls. The area is convincingly arranged to appear as it would have in the 1960s, with the only noticeable exception being the 1990s-era street lighting. There are several other anachronisms, such as a police two-tone horn at a time when bells were still used, the skirt lengths and hairstyles of the schoolgirls, and the fact that St John's Smith Square was not opened as a concert hall until 1969. The Pentax camera featured in the film (at 1.02.11) appears to be a Pentax S1 (or similar), which was available at the time.
Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard at the New York premiere in October 2009
The film currently holds a 94 percent "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 177 critics' reviews.
An Education grossed 1,633,504 from its domestic release and $26,096,852 worldwide.
Allegations of anti-Semitism
The film's release immediately raised questions regarding the necessity of having the con man be Jewish, a theme that plays into traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes. In an interview with The Forward, Hornby explained that he had wrestled with this question and had decided to remain faithful to the original essay, where the lead character is a Jewish con man. Hornby said he did not see the con man as particularly greedy, only a "petty criminal", and that he hopes that "we re beyond the point where you can only show ethnic and religious groups in a positive light".
Hornby also explained that the anti-Semitic comments by certain characters in the film upset people because "we didn t kill the characters that make antisemitic remarks that they re not actually punished within the film. I think that people are not used to the idea that people go unpunished in movies".
However, critics such as Joe Baltake argue that the film's plot itself goes out of its way to justify these anti-Semitic outbursts: "the ethnicity of her lover is unnecessarily made a crucial part in her betrayal". Irina Bragin argues that the film presents the stereotypical greedy and dishonest "wandering Jew" as the counter-stereotype to "refined, attractive, honest, sober and hard working" British Christian values.
An Education won the Audience Choice award and the Cinematography award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Mulligan won a Hollywood Film Festival award for Best Hollywood Breakthrough Performance for a Female. It was selected as Sight & Sound's film of the month.
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress for Carey Mulligan and Best Adapted Screenplay. The 63rd British Academy Film Awards saw the film come away with one award (for Best Actress) from nine nominations. The film received six British Independent Film Awards nominations and five Satellite Awards nominations.
An Education was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 30 March 2010.
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