Film review: 'An Education' star is a revelation

Published: Friday, Nov. 20 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Ellie Kendrick, left, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes and Carey Mulligan in "An Education."

Kerry Brown

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AN EDUCATION — ★★★1/2 — Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina; rated PG-13 (vulgarity, profanity, brief sex, slurs); Broadway Centre

"An Education" is more of "a revelation" than anything else. And that revelation is Carey Mulligan, an underheard-of-till-now actress.

(Mulligan's biggest splashes were in supporting roles in the British television series "Doctor Who" and the 2005 adaptation of "Pride & Prejudice.")

In what is her first but certainly not last starring role, Mulligan is so natural that you wonder why it took filmmakers so long to give her a role this substantive. The 20-something is sure to be on the mind of Oscar and other awards voters.

Of course, she's not the only thing that this '60s-period, coming-of-age tale has going for it. "An Education" puts a fairly classy spin on some material that has some distasteful aspects.

Also, this is one of the better acting ensembles seen in any movie this year.

Mulligan stars as Jenny, a smart, talented and pretty teen who's been "discovered" by David (Peter Sarsgaard), a much-older businessman.

Jenny's parents, especially her father (Alfred Molina), are skeptical of David and his intentions toward Jenny. Especially when it appears that he's courting her.

And their suspicions seem justified when Jenny begins neglecting her studies — possibly throwing away all the opportunities she's been given.

The portrayal of Jenny's personal and professional (educational) plight is done so sympathetically and sensitively that it's hard to believe this material was written by a middle-age man, British novelist Nick Hornby. (The "High Fidelity" writer loosely adapted Lynn Barber's memoirs, which were published in magazine form.)

Of course, he is aided by a female filmmaker, Danish director Lone Scherfig, who seems at ease with this material and who never allows the material to become too serious or overwhelming.

Still, the film's depiction of the seduction of a teen is a bit troublesome, and it makes Sarsgaard's charming David seem like more of a creep.

Luckily, most of the other characters are considerably more likable, and not just Mulligan's Jenny.

Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike are good as David's associates, as are Molina and Cara Seymour (who plays Jenny's mother).

The cast is rounded out by Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson, as Jenny's understandably concerned school instructor and administrator, respectively.

"An Education" is rated PG-13 and features some suggestive language and references, scattered profanity, a brief sex scene and other sexual contact (mostly implied), derogatory language and slurs, and brief implied violence (including some gunplay). Running time: 95 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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