An Education - Blu-ray Review

'although it's true that Jenny is on a journey of discovery through the film, I wasn't certain what it was she had actually discovered, nor what the film was trying to teach me about what 'an education' is, was or should consist of'

There is nothing worse than a film which spends the majority of its screen time shoving an agenda down your neck and then, come the conclusion, fails to take its own advice. Actually, what am I talking about? There are plenty of things worse than that. Tom Berrenger in Sniper 3 for example which Channel Five showed for the umpteenth time last night. Conclusion to this mini dalliance in the absurd: An Education is much better than Sniper 3 but still falls into the trap of teaching a 'be what I say, not what I do' lesson and being incredibly smug about it.

Part of the problem is with director Lone Scherfig and screenwriter Nick Hornby's treatment of the original material, a memoir by Lynn Barber. Assumedly written in the first person and with her own slant on things, Barber's missive no doubt painted herself in a fairly fine light and neither Scherfig nor Hornby appear inclined to argue otherwise. Carey Mulligan then, as simply 'Jenny' (read: Barber) gets a fairly easy task in that she swans about throughout the entire film being incredibly, well... right. She wins every argument, never misses a chance at a put down and charms everybody she comes across, which, after an hour or so in her company, becomes incredibly irritating.

Not to say that watching Mulligan do this isn't a joy. Whether she's really one to watch or not will depend on her next role (I somehow doubt she was stretched here) but her Jenny is a charming and subtle depiction... when she's not being annoying. Indeed, the performances in An Education are all of the highest calibre, not just Mulligan and Alfred Molina as her father, the only two to receive real awards buzz. I've liked Peter Sarsgaard for a long time and here he shows real depth as the smooth talking romantic you can't help but feel threatened by, even as he draws you, and Jenny, in to his personality. Dominic Cooper too takes on something completely different here to his recent role in The Escapist and his smart take on Sarsgaard's literal partner in crime is screen-hoggingly brilliant.

But, soon enough, the end of An Education arrives and Jenny makes choices she could have made a long time ago, only now, apparently, she is more wizened than before. I didn't really believe this and although it's true that Jenny is on a journey of discovery through the film, I wasn't certain what it was she had actually discovered, nor what the film was trying to teach me about what 'an education' is, was or should consist of. Its character driven smarts are endearing and entertaining to a point but there is a real lack of substance to Barber's message beyond the fact that she obviously did terribly well out of the situation because she's really quite clever don't you know. Unfortunately this can only lead to a slightly sour taste being left from a film with some remarkable acting turns which really warranted better, more even, storytelling.

Look further...

'Their tentative romance could seem indecent, even tawdry, but it doesn’t. Lone Scherfig’s ”An Education” is more delicate, more understanding of the intricacies of human wants, than that' - M. Carter At The Movies, Grade A


  1. Excellent review of the movie. Albeit the performances were terrific, the movie itself left a bit to be desired. Like you said, it went in one direction for 2 third of the movie only to completely back track in the last third.

  2. Come on, Jenny isn't right throughout the entire film. Her epiphany scene opposite Emma Thompson ends up being ironic because just like going to Oxford means being bored going to Paris and the theatre and all that has it's price too. As she tells Ms. Stubbs at the end - "I was stupid before, I didn't understand". She didn't realise that whichever life she chose came with a price.

    Anyhow, this is my favourite film of the last year so I'll defend it to grave - DUH.

  3. Castor - I think that's right and whilst I enjoyed it, I did find that a problem. Many thanks for the praise.

    (I try to avoid this on this blog but I think it's only fair to warn anyone who hasn't seen the film that there may be SPOLIERS in the below comment)

    Andrew - I think you make some really good points there and I certainly wouldn't argue against it (or any other film) being any one's favourite. As I said, I enjoyed it I just thought it had a couple of substantial problems.

    To expand on my points a touch: I think that although yes, Jenny does have an epiphany of sorts towards the end, it's an epiphany which calls into question the entire philosophical core of the film - I spent the entire run time thinking I was watching something that was questioning what 'an education' was, only to have it revert to concluding that an education is what most people take it to be anyway! For me, it undermined everything the film seemed to be questioning in the first 80-odd minutes.

    You're right too - perhaps Jenny's scene against Thompson does end up as ironic but that doesn't change the fact that she wins the argument. Just as she does against her teacher, her parents and Peter's friends. Even in her epiphany scene she's only wrong because she chooses to admit she made a mistake - she ultimately drives everything and I couldn't help but think that that was Barber looking back with rose-tinted spectacles and therefore, I struggled to believe her as a rounded character.

    Good discussion points though and you'll find plenty of people who disagree with me on both of the above.