Saturday, 14 May 2011

An Education

Two years ago when in London I debated going to see An Education but after seeing the Hurt Locker so affected by the film that I could not cope with another cinematic experience on the same day. It is just as well because the film liked by many critics at the time and nominated for three Academy awards including best film and best actress proved a big disappointment when shown on BBC 2 on Friday evening. Some five minutes of cuts were made to fit into a time slot before the 9 pm watershed (from 8.30 to 10pm). The film was a financial success grossing three times its budget, possibly because the media emphasised that this was a film about a come of age story of a 16 year school old girl, a few weeks before her 17th birthday.

My problem is that there was nothing original about the story or the form of expression although it did possess authenticity and overall credibility. The film is based on an autobiographical story published in the Cambridge University magazine Granta by British Journalist Lynn Barber who then wrote her book as the film was in the process of completion.

The girlhood is set in Ealing West London, an area which I came to know well during three years of working there for the local authority. She portrays her family as lower middle class although not boringly so with the splendid Alfred Molina as her determined but gullible father who one suspect would have preferred a boy in a single child couple family. Mother longs to break out from the rigidity and limitations of the relationship but her husband keeps her firmly in his box. As a young man I knew at least three young women from immediate memory in families such as these, who lacked parents with the education and social environment to have equipped their daughter to have avoided some of the pitfall experiences which fortunately Lynn manages to avoid the potentially most damaging aspects such as being locked as gangster’s moll or pregnant before her 18th birthday and perhaps worse of all missing out on an Oxford college Education.

She is picked up at the bus stop in torrential rain after attending a youth orchestra rehearsal by a man a decade older who she subsequently finds is a con man, thief, married with a child and whose basic income comes from Peter Rachman rented housing activities of which I had some first hand knowledge in advising Frank Allaun of a situation in Birmingham which he mentioned in the House of Commons in the Twilight Housing debate and which nearly led to be being asked to leave the Child Care course at Birmingham University in 1963.

He is clever introducing her into new and exciting situations social while persuading her parents to first agree to a late meal returning her home before midnight, to a weekend in Oxford and then a 17th birthday present of a trip to Paris.

When they first meet she is studying hard to gain a scholarship place Oxford which in those day required Latin and sitting a special exam usually taken after exceptional A level marks. She is the pride and joy of the English teacher who tries to warn her against the life she is beginning to lead as does the head teacher. She agrees to be seduced on her 17th birthday and eventually leaves school after accepting an engagement ring. It is only then she finds out he is married with a child and sees his wife and learns she is one in a long line although fortunately not one who has got pregnant.

Realising she was wasting a great opportunity she studies with the help of her English teacher and gains a place at Oxford where the film gives she impression she has met a nice young man who plans to take her Paris a place she would like to go to. This suggest she had an intense enjoyable period of experience before settling into normalcy, This is a betrayal of the truth of character and reality of an intentional attempt to mislead and misrepresent, This cane after what I thoughts was one of the best points in the films when she turns on her parents criticises them for failing to prevent her from making the mistakes having previously shown a wilful determination to have her own way and collude in various deceptions.

The true story is that as with many young women with broken hearts and early sexual experience she used her “maturity” to have a wild time on arrival in Oxford and subsequently admitted on Desert Island discs that she had sex with 50 men over two of her terms at the university. One of her university relationships was with Howard Marks hen at Balliol who later served a seven year prison term in the USA for drug offences. She worked for the soft porn magazine Penthouse also for seven years 1967 to 1974 before starting a family after which she achieved success writing for several national newspapers, winning several press awards and publishing several books. She became a widow in 2003.

I was impressed with the performance of Cary Mulligan as Jenny, the school girl because of its authenticity which struck chords with more than one young woman I knew during my time at Oxford and then subsequently. It is worth mentioning that she was 23/24 when she played the 16/18 year old. She received a BAFTA for the role.

No comments:

Post a Comment