One of the audience and sales success stories at this year's Sundance Film Festival wound up on my screening schedule late in the week through the cruel editorial equations of film festival journalism: An Education became a film I should see because I should see it. There had been praise for Nick Hornby's screenplay adaptation of Lynn Barber's memoir, a coming-of-age-story set in 1961 London; there were raves for Carey Mulligan's performance in the lead role; there was the news that Sony Pictures Classics had picked up the North American distribution rights for $3 million. Late in the festival, buzz and business both assured, An Education became a film to see if only to see if the hum and thrum of the week prior was in fact right.
An Education opens with the sight of young girls balancing books atop their heads to improve their posture, learning ballroom dancing, and taking home economics; since we know that the '60s are coming, and the young women we see don't quite, yet, the vision is like seeing a dinosaur, back straight and eyes front, walk blithely into a tar pit. Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is part of this world, but looking past it -- she's applying to Oxford, making sure her application looks good on paper. Told by her father (Alfred Molina) that she shouldn't be practicing her cello when she should be hitting the books, she's confused: "I thought we agreed cello was my interest or hobby. ..."