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An Education

By Alyssa Rosenberg on December 8, 2009 at 6:49 pm

"An Education"

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by Ian aka GayAsXmas

I finally got the chance to see An Education about 10 days ago. There is always the danger that seeing a film that has been so relentlessly hyped for months could lead to disappointment, but I completely fell for it. Based on the memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber, it details her sexual, cultural and intellectual awakening at 16 with a philandering older man in early sixties London. It’s a charming, funny, beautifully made film that features a sensational performance from Carey Mulligan in the lead role.

When the film ended, my friend David turned to me and said “Well, Lynn Barber certainly thinks highly of herself!” In some respects, that isn’t strictly fair. The character on screen is Barber refracted through the not inconsiderable skill of writer Nick Hornby, director Lone Scherfig and the luminous Mulligan. Their affection for the person that Barber described, the respect they pay her and their own humane instincts as artists inevitably make her a vibrant and memorable presence.

Still, I wonder what it must have been like to be Barber as she watched the film for the first time, to realise that she had achieved cinematic immortality with such a potent and sympathetic portrayal. I would imagine it was incredibly intoxicating to see her story unfold on a twenty foot screen and listen to the hosannas from critics. Every writer knows the emotional risks of allowing others to depict your life – even a character with the rich potential of Barber at 16 could come off as petulant and snobbish in the wrong hands. If one of the attractions of movies is allowing audience members to project themselves on to the screen, then Barber and others in her situation must experience a kind of rapture. Who wouldn’t think highly of themselves after such a heady experience?

I think most of us fantasise about we would want to play us on film (I’m going for the yet-to-be born amalgamation of George Clooney and Joe Pesci) The prospect of having that fantasy realised while you’re still live and kicking, and seeing some of your most formative experiences charted in such detail while largely powerless to affect the outcome is no doubt nerve-wracking. To have it vindicated and even celebrated is a pretty damn good way to underscore that part of your life.

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