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Education, An


Stars: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams, Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson, Cara Seymour, Matthew Beard, Sally Hawkins

Director: Lone Scherfig

Enter the new Audrey Hepburn. Carey Mulligan may be closer to Sarah Miles in looks than Audrey, but there's an aura about her that's irrevocably Hepburn. She can play schoolgirl-eager or young-sophisticated and she knocks spots off other rising British actresses in this story of a 17-year-old bound for Oxford in 1961 who chooses a different kind of education.

Picked up one evening in pouring rain by a charming older man (Hollywood's Sarsgaard with a rather airy English accent), Jenny (Mulligan), saddled with retro parents (Molina, Seymour) - 'Dad's never come across anyone,' says Jenny - is
suddenly introduced to a world of art sales, jazz clubs, concerts and sophisticated dinners.

Already a smoker, she adopts a beehive hairstyle that, with her natural poise, makes her look much older than her years.
To the despair of her teacher (a heartfelt performance by Williams), her grades drop and university seems a gateway to something much less exciting than what she has.

There are excellent portrayals from Pike as a blonde who knows which side her bread is buttered - 'I always think I'm going to my own funeral when I hear classical music,' she sighs - and her beau (Cooper), who's into shady property deals with Sarsgaard (who, the script lets slip midway, is married), as well as Williams, distraught as the dedicated teacher who sees her prize pupil slipping away. The scene between her and Mulligan at the end will leave a lump in most throats.

When all is said done, though, this is Mulligan's film, and one one that's mostly right on the mark. Only Thompson's headteacher and Molina's dad, with their improbable attitudes (even for the 1960s) strike false notes. Otherwise this gets an A+ in all departments.

David Quinlan

UK 2009. UK Distributor: E1 Films. Colour by deluxe.
100 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 28 Oct 2009