An Education features one of the most stunning transformations in cinema. It’s not just a physical one: the delicate Jenny (Carey Mulligan) morphs from a uniformed school girl into a worldly young woman, both sartorially and emotionally.
Based on an autobiographical article in Granta by Lynn Barber, the film was adapted for screen by Nick Hornby (a man that does great things) and directed by Lone Scherfig (who directed the wonderful Italian for Beginners, the only Dogme romantic comedy). Set in London in 1961, the story follows the romance between 16-year-old Jenny and David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard), a moneyed playboy type in his early 30s.
Jenny is seduced, as any girl her age would be, by a glamorous cosmopolitan lifestyle, impromptu trips to Paris, extravagant dinners, sophisticated older friends, and dreamy clothes. To perfectly capture the essence of that era, the film’s costume designer, Odile Dicks-Mireaux, sourced almost the entire wardrobe from vintage dealers and costume houses. Through fashion, one is completely immersed in that world, from jacquard shift dresses to pill-box hats to dazzling costume jewels.
Jenny is given her first makeover by David’s friend Helen (Rosamund Pike), an impossibly gorgeous Catherine Deneuve lookalike. Helen herself is a woman ahead of her time, opting for less classic, more vamp-y styles, more akin to the mid-60s. Her heavy costume jewels exude glamour, as does her ever-present cigarette (it is the ’60s, after all).
Helen gives Jenny a little makeover which sets the tone for her look. With her little black dress, a white coat, and a sexy leopard pill-box hat, Jenny becomes sort of a baby Jackie O, a little girl trying to fit in the world of adults.
The realm between her adolescence and adulthood is often uncomfortable. Like in the bedroom scene where Jenny wears a slip given to her by Peter for their first night together. It’s dusty rose, a colour so incredibly dainty. In Paris, she wears a darling watercolour shift, shadowing her very naive and romantic nature.
In the end, following a shocking reveal and an inevitable heartbreak, Jenny finally transforms into a young woman. In a Jackie O style gold number, a matching clutch bag, heavy eye makeup and sensual red lips, she enters adulthood, forever changed by the short-lived romance.
There is beauty in the mess of it all, seeing a young woman experience things for the first time and those around her (David, mainly) reliving those moments through her — an education, I suppose.