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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

January 4, 2010 at 10:53 AM

The story behind “An Education”

I rewatched “An Education” — one of my favorite films of the year — this weekend, and was thrilled by it yet again. (I love to rewatch movies that I’ve reviewed and enjoyed; it’s a treat to watch without taking notes, and to bring along someone who I know will love it.) I was struck, this time, by how much Sally Hawkins was able to bring to about sixty seconds of screen time late in the movie (I won’t tell you who she plays, as it spoils the plot); by how wonderfully Olivia Williams depicts the joys and the disappointments of teaching (as she did in “Rushmore” — and why haven’t we seen more of her since then?); the blustery earnestness Alfred Molina brings to the line “Becoming one [a famous author] isn’t the same as knowing one”; and the way the camera plays with Carey Mulligan’s mercurial face, particularly a scene near the end where her red lipstick and Audrey Hepburn makeup suddenly stops looking sophisticated and starts looking like a little girl who’s gotten into her mother’s cosmetics box, all due to light and angle.
Lovely film, and very much faithful to its source (adapted by Nick Hornby): a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber, which you can read here. Barber, who says that in real life the relationship lasted nearly two years, notes that her parents loved Simon (called David in the film, and played by Peter Sarsgaard) more than she did; what she loved was the sophisticated world around him.

Simon in theory represented everything my parents most feared – he was not one of us, he was Jewish and cosmopolitan, practically a foreigner. He wore cashmere sweaters and suede shoes; he drove a pointlessly expensive car; he didn’t work in an office; he was vague about where he went to school and, worst of all, boasted that he had been educated in “the university of life” – not a teaching establishment my parents recognised. And yet, inexplicably, they liked him. In fact, they liked him more than I ever liked him, perhaps because he took great pains to make them like him. He brought my mother flowers and my father wine; he taught them to play backgammon; he chatted to them endlessly and seemed genuinely interested in their views. I suppose it made a change for them from always talking about me.

She notes, in an afterward, that she loves the film. “Of course I now routinely refer to it as “my” film and have almost convinced myself that I not only wrote it but produced and directed it – but anyway huge thanks to Nick Hornby, Amanda Posey, Finola Dwyer, and Lone Scherfig for making such a good job of it. And if anyone wants to believe that I was as pretty as Carey Mulligan when I was l6, by all means go ahead.”

Carey Mulligan in “An Education”; photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

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