Judging by its plot alone, this flick offers nothing too new or exciting: in 1960s, suburban London, a 16-year-old A-level student with a taste for the French Existentialists (and a vague resemblance to their muse Juliette Gréco, whose songs are scattered throughout the film) ditches her Oxford-blessed future for the decadent high life with a playboy 20 years her senior. But An Education turns out to be endearing in many unexpected ways, from the attractive cast (Pike’s Helen provides a hilarious anti-intellectual counterpoint to Mulligan’s excellent Jenny) to the witty dialogue (“I wouldn’t feel anything if my mother died. Does that make me an existentialist?” “No, it makes you a cow”).
The plot’s carpe diem versus hard work (get yourself a university education) refreshingly defies black-and-white judgments about female emancipation. Jenny ends up having it both ways: her escapade provides her with a ‘sentimental education’ and her prodigal return to the books tells us she’ll make it as an independent Frau. She managed to taste the forbidden fruits of that parallel paradise without becoming a ‘fallen woman’.
AN EDUCATION (UK 2009) Directed by Lone Scherfing with Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike. Starts February 18. Rating: 4/4