An Education review

Lessons in love...

Why you can trust GamesRadar+ Our experts review games, movies and tech over countless hours, so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about our reviews policy.

“This whole, stupid country is boring!” cries Jenny, a book-smart teen itching to get out of the stuffy Twickenham of 1961 and into the cosmopolitan world beyond. But life is about to get a lot less dull for this Oxford-bound naïf, thanks to a gently predatory thirtysomething who whisks her away in his Bristol saloon and satisfies her craving for culture and sophistication in return for her virginity.

It’s a simple coming-of-age story, unfussily adapted by Fever Pitch’s Nick Hornby from columnist Lynn Barber’s memoir. Thanks to a near-perfect mixture of elements, though – compassionate direction from Lone Scherfig, terrific period detail and, above all, a spectacularly winning turn from newcomer Carey Mulligan in the lead role – An Education is a constant delight.

That’s no mean feat for a movie whose male lead is a sleazy cradle-snatcher with several skeletons in his closet. Yet Peter Sarsgaard works hard to make the opportunistic David sympathetic, helped no end by a script which treats him more evenhandedly than Barber does his real-life counterpart.

It helps too that the world he whisks Jenny into is a beguiling one of jazz and champagne, populated by elegant hedonists like Dominic Cooper’s natty Danny and Rosamund Pike’s thick-as-a-plank Helen. It’s only later that Jenny begins to realise how shallow her new existence is – a hard-won discovery achieved with the assistance of Olivia Williams’ quietly affecting English teacher and Emma Thompson’s amusingly stern headmistress.

Elsewhere Alfred Molina is splendid as Jenny’s dad, a blustering buffoon readily taken in by David’s easy charm, while Sally Hawkins has a small but telling cameo late in the story. Ultimately, though, this is Mulligan’s film, the 24-year-old starlet stealing our hearts as surely as Audrey Hepburn did half a century ago with a performance of dimpled sweetness and impish precocity.

More info

Available platformsMovie
Freelance Writer

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.