This entire preamble should be taken as proof of how much of an Anglophobic idiot I can be, because really, I loved and adored An Education, and felt much more of a connection to it than probably any American High School film I've ever seen. I can only attribute this to the fact that, although it's set in the sixties, it is very much relevant to today's England, and watching it I could remember what it was like being 16 again, only dreaming of the adventures that Jenny gets to have in this film.
And while we're on the subject, let's talk about Jenny. I absolutely adore this girl, her wittiness, her desire to get out in the world and really live; to break free of the stifling boredom of suburbia and really experience the world. Mulligan plays her so well- just the right amount of optimism and psuedo-worldliness, as well as, later, the utter desolation that comes with a teenager's heartbreak and belief that nothing will ever be right again, because it's not right now. She thinks she knows the way the world works, but really she's so naive that it makes you wince a little to watch- why does she never question the intentions of this older man, and the casual coolness he exudes through every step of their relationship? The answer is, of course, that she's a teenager, and that's exactly the way she should be behaving.
So, the basic story of An Education is that of Jenny, a bored but undeniably smart and lovely schoolgirl, whose father, teachers, and, to a lesser extent, herself, have ambitions for her to go to Oxford, something which she looks very much like achieving until she meets an exciting older man who makes her see there might be another way to live than by getting an education. Since this is the sixties, this of course means getting married, something which is strongly discouraged by Jenny's English teacher, who I love and adore as an example of an independent 60s woman; but is encouraged by her parents who it seems only wanted her to go to Oxford to find a nice (read: rich) husband anyway. That's sixties feminism for you- get a girl educated so she can meet a man who's going to be rich and take care of her for her whole life. Nice.
An Education is really a coming of age film, where Jenny finds out the hard way that anything you want you have to get for yourself, and that there is no shortcut to happiness. I really just loved everything about this film- the way it looked, the (pre) feminist attitudes of Jenny's female teachers, the idea that the entirety of England is 'bored', the way Jenny 'speaks french for no reason' (I can't say I've never done this!) What I possibly liked most is how universal the characters were- Jenny could have been any bright schoolgirl, and her parents could have been anyone's parents, especially mine (the lack of adventurousness and casual xenophobia, certainly!) and it just made me feel very English, without feeling boring (as Englishness always seems to me). It feels a bit like a first step on recovery from being a self-hating English person, but I'm sure it'll only take something with Hugh Grant in to fill me with an anger for all things English once again!
But still- it is nice for the moment not to feel like everything about England is awful and shit, and if you want to feel this way too, I strongly recommend An Education to you! And if you already love England then An Education is definitely for you, and if you have no strong feelings either way, you should still see it for Mulligan's wonderful performance, and just for the happy happy good feelings that you'll be able to carry with you from it to the next day. Also for something very hiliarious and wrong potentially happening with a banana. Don't say I didn't warn you...