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Review: 'An Education'

A coming-of-age story about a precocious schoolgirl whose new older boyfriend turns out not to be all that he seems.

By Peter RainerFilm critic of The Christian Science Monitor / October 9, 2009

British actress, Carey Mulligan, is shown in a scene from, "An Education."

Sony Pictures Classics/Kerry Brown/AP


It's not often a critic can declare "a star is born," but this is indubitably the case with Carey Mulligan, who plays the 16-year-old English schoolgirl Jenny in "An Education." It might be more accurate if I said "a star who can really act is born." Not all movie stars have the acting chops, but Mulligan has both charisma and talent to burn. Her performance here is a welcome conflagration.

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The time is 1961, just as England was pulling out of the postwar doldrums and awaiting the Beatles. Jenny lives with her stuffy parents in the London suburb of Twickenham and attends a strict, local girls' school. A standout English student and lover of all things French – she drops bons mots into her conversation with aplomb – Jenny is a sophisticate without portfolio. She drags deeply on Gauloises and instructs her somewhat gaga classmates on the finer points of existentialism. All that is missing from her life is a companionable suitor and, as if on schedule, he arrives one day in his maroon Bristol roadster to rescue her from a downpour.

David (Peter Sarsgaard) is twice her age, Jewish, and well-to-do, although what exactly he does is not at all clear. He seems able to finesse anything. Jenny's prim mum, Marjorie (Cara Seymour), and overbearing father, Jack (Alfred Molina), are all too easily won over by David, who sets out to impress them with a phony Oxbridge pedigree. In her parents' eyes, Oxford is the latchkey to success, and David, concocting a bogus alibi to spirit Jenny away for an overnight trip, offers to introduce her to his old professor "Clive" – C.S. Lewis.

What he really has in store, with his modish best friend and business partner Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Danny's ditzy girlfriend Helen (Rosamund Pike) in tow, are fun times. David introduces Jenny to swank clubs, art auctions, classical music concerts. Soon she is so far out of her classmates' cultural league that she seems, more than ever, an interloper in their midst.