An Education



For a long time, watching this film was like having drawing pins pushed in all over my body.

What happens in the film

So it’s the early 1960s and young Jenny is doing her A-levels (studying, significantly enough, Jane Eyre) when she is picked up by a charming older bloke at a bus-stop.

Dave, the older bloke charms her imperceptive parents takes her to concerts and the greyhound racing and Paris and introduces her to his friends Danny and Helen.  Dave and Jenny have sex in Paris.


Dave and Danny have dubious business dealings working for Peter Rachman and nicking things from old ladies.  Dave asks Jenny to marry him–they get engaged–Dave is taking the family out in his flash car when Jenny discovers from letters in the glove compartment that he is already married.  Rather than facing the family Dave drives off–it turns out that he lives nearby with his wife and little boy.  Jenny returns to her studies and in the (happy) end goes to Oxford with a richer fund of experience than her contemporaries.


Why I object to the film

That’s what having worked in children’s social services and knowing something about the realities of child sex abuse does for you I suppose! (Don’t give me that she was over 16–a schoolgirl is a schoolgirl.)  Here we have the father selling his young daughter (not for money but for cheap flattery and cut-rate charm) to an older man so he can have sex with her.  That’s not a comedy with amusing sidelights on the Britain of 40 or 50 years ago.  And what has Jenny so narrowly avoided?  An illegal abortion or single motherhood in an L-shaped room at best–we see no trace of this.

In fact, Alfred Molina gave a total non-performance as the father, while as Dave  Peter Sarsgaard was entirely too wholesome (and young-seeming) to suggest the total vacuity of the glamorous man-about-town with his wife and son in a semi two streets away.  As everyone has pointed out, Carey Mulligan did a brilliant job as the sometime-girl, sometime-woman Jenny, though she didn’t really look 16, thank God.

(What if Jenny had been played by a grown-up woman, but nobody saw it?  What if Dave had been impotent?  There might even be a decent film to be extracted here.)

Amusing sidelights on the olden days

If there was anything I liked about the film, it was the picture of Britain at the beginning of the sixties, when different strata of society–the posh, the respectable, the louche, the criminal–were coming into contact with each other.  And I can see that people who think going to Oxford is impossibly glamorous might also think you are offered a place by a ‘Faculty’.

It’s all too clever for the likes of me to understand

At the beginning, Jenny wins praise from the ‘good’ teacher Miss Stubbs for pointing out that Mr Rochester is blind–and so is she, in not ‘seeing through’ Dave.  And Mr Rochester is already married as well….oh that’s all so clever I can hardly breathe I’m so impressed.

Let’s be optimistic and see the plausible machinations of Dave and his saturnine friend in attempting to ruin Jenny while enriching themselves through fraud and robbery as representing a timely warning against Dave Cameron and George Osborne.  This is reinforced by the non-performance of Alfred Molina, an obvious reference to Gordon Brown, who Britannia Jenny will return to in the end…

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