Paedophilia, teenage rebellion, theft, extra-marital sex… not the kind of plot keywords you might normally expect to find in a film I’d recommend, but then An Education (BBC films, 2009, rated 12) is not what you might normally expect from an Oscar-nominated, Bafta-winning Brit-flick.
The year is 1961, and our heroine, 16-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan), is studying hard to get into Oxford when, out of the blue, along comes a dashing older man – David (Peter Saarsgaard) – who sweeps her off her feet and introduces her to nightclubs, music, art and travel. Jenny’s parents, initially disapproving, are in their turn charmed by David, and allow Jenny freedoms they had previously never dreamed of, eventually turning a blind eye to what their child might be getting up to with this older man during weekends away on the continent…
So far, so predictable – any movie teenager with a spark of intelligence and imagination is bound by the laws of Hollywood to rebel against stuffy, out-of-touch authority figures and go off and have fun, showing them how empty their respectable, hard-working lives are, and how much better it is to please yourself with no thought for the future.
Yet when things go wrong, Jenny’s response is the most refreshing and redemptive you’ll find in many a movie. She apologises to her teachers and humbly asks for their help, but it is her response to her parents which is the most telling. Why, she asks, did they not act like parents? “Silly schoolgirls are always being seduced by older men”, but their parents are supposed to protect them from their folly.
I was blown away that a ‘coming of age’ film would actually be willing to promote the concepts of learning from your mistakes and apologising for them, and more, that it would accept the possibility that sometimes the ‘right’ (though dull-looking) path, might actually be the best one.
Well done to Nick Hornby (screenplay) et al for daring to make that bravest of things – a beautiful, well-crafted, well-acted piece with a strong moral message! See it, rent it, buy it, vote with your wallet – let them know that we want more!