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An Education DVD Review

An Education movie poster An Education

Theatrical Release: October 16, 2009 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Lone Scherfig / Writers: Lynn Barber (memoir), Nick Hornby (screenplay)

Cast: Peter Sarsgaard (David Goldman), Alfred Molina (Jack), Rosamund Pike (Helen), Dominic Cooper (Danny), Olivia Williams (Miss Stubbs), Cara Seymour (Marjorie), Sally Hawkins (Sarah), Ellie Kendrick (Tina), Amanda Fairbank-Hynes (Hattie), Matthew Beard (Graham), Emma Thompson (Headmistress Walters), Carey Mulligan (Jenny)

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When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced last summer the plan to expand the Best Picture award playing field from five nominees to ten, it cited historical precedent,
namely that the Oscar ceremonies held from 1934 to 1944 included at least ten Best Picture nominees. Of course, the change was also perceived as a plea for relevance, the hope being that a wider field would allow high recognition to go not just to the usual year-end award bait but also the types of acclaimed popular films whose absences in recent years were unhappily noted.

We'll never know for certain which of this year's ten nominees would have made the cut had the list not been doubled. But the traditional correlation between the Best Picture and Best Director categories gives us a pretty good idea. Among the films nominated for Picture but not Director are some clearly bucking tradition: the animated Up, sci-fi flick District 9, and inspirational football drama The Blind Side. Also falling into this class were two movies more in line with Academy tastes but perhaps likely to be excluded if not for the change: the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man and Lone Scherfig's An Education.

Carey Mulligan was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her turn as dedicated London high school student Jenny Millar. Declaring himself a music aficionado, David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard) offers Jenny's cello and Jenny an escape from the rain.

An Education is a period drama, one based on a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber. Set in 1961, the film centers on Jenny Millar (Carey Mulligan), a 16-year-old English girl in her final year of private secondary schooling. An excellent student in all classes but Latin, Jenny is devoted to her academics and planning to apply to Oxford University. That's just how her parents think she should be, especially her opinionated father Jack (an amusing Alfred Molina).

One rainy day, while waiting to be picked up from cello rehearsal, Jenny accepts a ride from David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard, with a passable British accent), a smooth-talking man in a sports car. Though David pretends his concern is keeping the schoolgirl's cello dry, we soon see he has plenty of interest in the instrument's owner as well. A lavish bouquet of flowers arrives on the Millars' doorstep on the day of Jenny's concert. A flexible invitation to a Friday night performance of Ravel follows.

The blossoming relationship between Jenny and David serves as the film's top interest. Wealthy and persuasive, he introduces the teen to exciting new worlds, while even charming her ordinarily disapproving father. Jenny quickly finds herself the fourth member of a social group that includes another couple in the dodgy Danny (Dominic Cooper) and daft Helen (Rosamund Pike). The clique attends art auctions and horse races without giving a thought to finances.

Jenny's mother Marjorie (Cara Seymour) and father Jack (Alfred Molina) are not averse to the charms of their daughter's suave suitor. Socializing with David gives Jenny new companions in the vapid Helen (Rosamund Pike) and tired-looking Danny (Dominic Cooper).

Jenny recognizes that this lifestyle of her gentlemanly new suitor seems too good to be true. There are some obvious concerns. While not quite old, David is much older than her. He's also Jewish at a time when that is not merely a fact shared in passing. Beyond those, there is his profession, about which he is vague and guarded. As long as she's being treated to romantic weekend getaways and Paris excursions, Jenny is able to overlook some warning signs. When a proposal comes her way, though, she realizes she must choose between opulent dependence and the titular phrase her life had previously been based upon.

An Education marks the second English-language effort for Danish director Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself). She displays confidence in the material, which was adapted from Barber's 20-page magazine article by novelist Nick Hornby. While this is only Hornby's second screenplay (the first being the 1997 British adaptation of his book Fever Pitch),
the movies taken from his novels About a Boy and High Fidelity are renowned enough for him to carry industry clout and name recognition. Hornby's screenplay was the second-most celebrated thing about this film. The first was the lead performance of 24-year-old Carey Mulligan. Both received Academy Award nominations.

The film is engrossing and offers some insight into womanhood as it stood almost fifty years ago. The liberating life of privilege that David welcomes Jenny into creates a fork in the road she had blindly accepted as her destiny. Suddenly, the stable routines of her parents and English teacher Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams) seem deathly dull. While the performances have much merit and the viewer's interest never flags, a distinct lack of electricity keeps An Education from being more potent. Maybe that's the baggage of expectations that come with a Best Picture nomination. Watching, I kept waiting for a punch or a kick, something to elevate the drama beyond above-average. It never really came. We do get a twist that brings out the film's melodramatic side and a conclusion that reveals its not always imaginative stylings. Whether it's adherence to Ms. Barber's facts (whose faithfully-told story can be read here) or an overreliance on period nostalgia (which surprisingly keeps pop culture out of sight), something about this didn't resonate for me quite as it did for many viewers and award voters.

Watch the theatrical trailer for An Education

Buy An Education on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: March 30, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $28.96
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc


An Education is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and it looks terrific. A few shots display some light grain, but I suspect deliberate filming technique and timing are more responsible than the DVD's transfer. The picturesque visuals are very capably displayed in this clean, vibrant presentation. Also satisfying, the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack delivered unexpected atmosphere. The pivotal thunderstorm, for instance, engulfs more potently than other cinematic portrayals of the elements. The sparse score by Paul Englishby is also nicely rendered.

With the boy of "About a Boy" peeking out from a wall poster, Nick Hornby discusses a film for which he actually wrote the screenplay in "The Making of 'An Education'." Director Lone Scherfig reflects on her film while "Walking the Red Carpet" at its Grauman's Egyptian Theatre premiere. We get one additional sighting of Emma Thompson's briefly-seen headmistress in this deleted scene.


An Education's bonus features begin with an audio commentary by director Lone Scherfig and stars Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard. The three are very focused on what is seen in the moment. Their short, observational remarks don't ever really build into a full discussion. Sarsgaard does provide some interesting assessments of his character and we hear some facts about filming conditions. But too much of it is simply the speakers appreciating what they see and complimenting. I expected more from this lackluster track, which you wouldn't lose much by skipping.

"The Making of An Education" (8:45) gathers comments from actors, the director, producers, and screenwriter Nick Hornby.
It's nothing groundbreaking, but it sheds some light on the film's intentions and production.

"Walking the Red Carpet" (8:25) may seem like a glossy inclusion for this film, but it's welcome. Here, four lead cast members, director Scherfig, and attendee Cheryl Hines are interviewed at the film's LA premiere in Grauman's Egyptian Theatre. From the red carpet, we go inside for Scherfig's brief introductory comments.

A number of compelling character moments are found among the eleven deleted scenes (16:10). Among them are an additional appearance by Emma Thompson's headmistress punishing smoking, more of Jenny and her school friends, a telling Jenny/David exchange on honesty, an extension of Sally Hawkins' scene, and an alternate ending. More than half of the cut content would have elongated the film's final moments.

Gladly, we get An Education's original theatrical trailer (2:25).

Disc-loading promos advertise Blu-ray/BD-Live, Did You Hear About the Morgans?, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and Chloe. These are joined on the Previews menus by trailers for Coco Before Chanel, Married Life, It Might Get Loud, Whatever Works, Easy Virtue, and Every Little Step.

The DVD's menus employ the design of the opening credits with chalkboard drawings and still images.

Fellow schoolgirls Tina (Ellie Kendrick, left) and Hattie (Amanda Fairbank-Hynes) are excited to learn of Jenny's Parisian plans while the friends share a smoke. David (Peter Sarsgaard) and Jenny (Carey Mulligan) look tr่s cool as they wear sunglasses on their Paris getaway.


Worthy of a Best Picture nomination? Perhaps not. But An Education is still far more interesting and substantial than the majority of today's films. A personal coming-of-age story told with a fair amount of humor and heart, this is one worth seeing. The DVD's feature presentation delights and among the ordinary extras are good deleted scenes and featurettes.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy on Blu-ray / Books: Lynn Barber, Nick Hornby

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2009 Best Picture Nominees: A Serious Man • Up (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) • District 9 (2-Disc Edition)
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Reviewed March 19, 2010.

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