Based on an autobiographical essay by British journalist Lynn Barber, An Education tells the story of Jenny Miller, a young girl living in 1960’s England who has an affair with an older man named David Goldman.
Jenny (played wonderfully by a mesmerizing Carey Mulligan) lives a protected life that is driven by her dream to go to Oxford. One day, as she is walking home from cello practice in the rain, the charming and handsome David (a mysterious yet entrancing Peter Saarsgard) offers her a ride. She cautiously accepts and as they drive, her esteem for him grows. He then offers to take her to hear the symphony and even though she would like to attend, she says that her parents would never permit it. Using his charm, David seduces Jenny’s mother and impresses and convinces her strict overbearing father (Alfred Molina at his best).
Once at the symphony, Jenny meets Danny and Helen, David’s friends. Jenny becomes enamored with the sophistication of Danny and the allure of Helen. They live in a world of glamour, class and sophistication. Jenny longs for a life characterized by these things and she immediately is drawn closer to David as he “educates” her.
As time goes on, Jenny finds herself becoming less concerned with her schooling and more interested in her life with David. Ironically, her father reacts the same way, as he views David as an ideal suitor for his daughter.
Without divulging too much, things do not turn out as planned, as David is not the man Jenny once thought he was. She ends up having to deal with the repercussions of her decisions and mature from the situation she has found herself in.
Even though An Education sounds as if it is your average coming of age story, it is truly original, honest, and poignant. Led by the best female performance of the year, Mulligan takes Jenny and doesn’t make her come out to be a victim of David’s lust or her father’s ambitions for her. Instead, she is in complete control of herself and her aspirations. It is her battles with the expectations those have of her that make An Education so fascinating.
In my favorite scene of the film, Jenny visits an old teacher of hers who she once saw as stale and run of the mill. As she observes her apartment, she is enamored by her paintings, writings and most importantly, her piano. It is in that moment that Jenny takes the biggest step of her young life and asks for help. “I was so hoping that is what you would say,” the teacher says. It’s warm moments like this that make An Education one of the unequivocal best of 2009.