Thursday, June 10, 2010

An Education/ Un Education

I’m always a stickler for good drama especially those of the British variety. After award season came and invariably left this year I went over the list picking out films I’d like to watch. I saw Catherin Biglow’s war drama The Hurt Locker (to be reviewed later) and the Oprah backed Precious. But it was young Catherine Mulligan’s performance in the BBC drama An Education that struck me where it counts most.

The film is based on the memoirs of Lynn Barber and is set in Twickenham 1961. We meet Jenny an irresistibly vivacious and charming brunette, Oxford bound and self-assured beyond her years. She has the world at her feet. In walks (or drives) David an older man- a man of the world. There are sparks. We emerge from the film one and half hour later feeling older and wiser. Educated if you will and this is how it happens.

Like many young people I often question the relevance of education. Jenny does. You see her man David (Peter Saarsgard) studied “in the university of life and didn’t get a good degree there” yet he drives an expensive sports car “it’s a Bristol – not many of them made”, goes to concert recitals, jazz gigs and eats supper at wonderful restaurants, these trapping to a girl are undeniable and we the audience (captive to David’s charms) will Jenny along as she is enticed by the magic of David and his amazing Technicolored® tongue we fall in love with Parisian getaways (with parental consent of course!) and playing hooky to buy Bern Jones paintings at Christies. Things that all school girls should do. At the heart of the film are 1960s subtleties. Women even of the educated sort wound up in positions of no consequence. Jenny’s English teacher, a horn-rimmed and Cambridge educated is stuck in a sixth form college reading “essays about ponies” and Jenny ask “what’s the point?” and indeed I myself asked, “What is the point?” we all need an education agreed the question is why and as Jenny poses it to her headmistress

It is an argument worth rehearsing. You never know when somebody else might want to know the point of it all.

When it comes down to it Jenny must choose. Either Renaissance man or the college degree (that promises a teaching post or better life in the civil service). In the end we see a woman becoming a pragmatic girl, like all coming of age films the protagonist undergoes a dramatic transformation, her headmistress calls her a ruined woman. I agree. In this film we back Jenny to the bitter end, the romanticism of the early 60s conspires to invoke feelings better times, and out of this purgatory of hedonism emerges the wisened Jenny, educated in ‘the university of life’ yet still Oxford bound with the world at her feet and I can tell you something this “ruined woman” like the film is trés chic!


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