Carey Mulligan will be back headlining a new version of Far From the Madding Crowd later this year and it's now been five years since she won the world's attention. 2009 was the year Carey grew up from youngest Bennett sister to an actress worth following. She'd previously had slight but efficient turns in Brothers and Public Enemies, and a lovely performance opposite Susan Sarandon in the unremembered The Greatest but it was with Jenny Mellor in An Education that she made us fall in love.
The film has only recently begun and Oxford hopeful, Jenny Mellor, is making her way home from band practice. A thunderclap in the preceding scene signals bad weather ahead and we cut to:
Although it's a character focused coming-of-age film, An Education sure does like its romantic tropes. Like this meet-cute in the rain where Jenny meets un jeune homme serieux, David. The set up of the scene suggests that the rapport between the two is its focus, the camera is beholden to Jenny. Like the entire film. Even just standing and sulkin' in the rain we can hear the faint 'a star is born' refrain.
The score accelerates underneath as the car approaches and ambiguous, but charming, David gives one of the best opening lines from a potential beau.
Hello. Look, if you had any sense, you wouldn’t take a lift from a strange man. But, I’m a music lover and I’m worried about your cello. So what I propose is you put it in my car and walk along beside me."
Jenny: How do I know you just won’t drive off with the cello?
David: Good point. How much does a new cello cost? £10, £15? I don’t know. Let’s say £15.
It’s a smooth opening moment for David and Sarsgaard nails the easy charm. But the camera leaves David and his lines to focus on Carey’s expressive face. Jenny is always our focus.
Our first bright smile from Carey which is as warm and genuine as Jenny. I remember that last image splashed across film sites all through 2009 with the notices of her star-in-the-making performance. And rightly so because Carey is delightful. In this moment we believe that this girl is 16. Everything about this genuine laugh tinged with just the slightest bit of nervousness shows us a girl who is smarter than her age, but still a girl. (Carey’s been playing melancholia more than anything else in the five years since and I yearn for her to tackle someone less tragic or bitter soon, if only to see that smile again)
David drives beside Jenny as she walks. They talk about her upcoming concert. We realize David's line about the cello was not just a a line as he opines on the composer Elgar. Conversation on Elgar leads to this awkward gem.
David: ...Anyway, Elgar and the Jews don’t mix very well.
Jenny: I’m not a Jew.
David: No, I am. I wasn’t accusing you.
I don’t know what to make of the script’s interest in David’s Judaism although it is responsible for some awkward humour. (You're aware, I take it, that the Jews killed our Lord?) The thunderclap saves Jenny from a response and she looks to the heavens.
Jenny: Can I sit in the car with my cello?”
We've only just met David and haven't been soured on him and his smooth-operator tactics yet. So, the moment has the feel of a knight-in-shining-armour as the man in the beautiful sports car saves the wet damsel from the rain. And who can blame Jenny for having had enough of that rainy shower? She enters the car from the rain and utters a line that will prove prescient.
I’ve never seen a car like this before. C’est tres chic.”
(She will learn many things she hasn't seen before from David.)
The rain continues, but Carey's impromptu shower is over. The conversation will continue in the car, but by this time in the film in 2009 we have discerned the pertinent information. A connection has been made - between David and Jenny, yes. But, more importantly, between Carey Mulligan and the world. Only six minutes into An Education and already the rain has baptised a new film star.