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April Showers: An Education

waterworks each night at 11. Here's Andrew on Carey Mulligan's breakthrough

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."

She giggles.

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.

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Reader Comments (13)

Adore this movie.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

In the very first picture Carey looks how I felt after watching this film. That an average performance of a shallow and uninteresting character could ever gain THAT much attention still confuses me. I also don't find the prospect of a new Far From The Madding Crowd all too compelling, since I remember the version from 1967 as a film that went horribly wrong in spite of a promising starting situation with a respected literary source, a great director and an impressive cast. For some reason I just can't believe that a contemporary movie could ever top something from the 60s, no matter how weak the original was. And the Schlesinger film at least had a marvelous score which - unlike Carey Mulligan in An Education - fully deserved its Oscar nomination.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWilly

I still find her performance in Drive very underrated.

Technically she was miscast but she loaded that character with so much nuance that the miscasting didn't even matter in the end.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I totally disagree with Willy,a true star making performance and one she capatalized on in a gr8 wy,smart different supporting roles in Drive and esp Shame,i trylu believed in her as a 16 yr old,loved her confrontation with Thompson too and her chemistry with her parents and the fab Pike,hey what do i know,i believed Swank shoulda been a 2009 actress nominee for Amelia..

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

I loved this movie so much, and Mulligan was about 95% of the reason. Just perfect.
I'd like to see her smile more too, but she used that smile to good effect in Drive.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Should have won the Oscar, damn Bullock

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I really liked Mulligan in this but, above all, I (L) Nick Hornby!

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

great post Andrew! More actressing all the time.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermurtada

LOVE this performance. Unfortunately, I've ended up somewhere between "let down" and "extremely disappointed" from every performance she's done since.

I can never decide who I love more from 2009: Mulligan, Gabby Sidibe, or Streep as Julia Child.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Love this piece, and this is also my favorite film of 2009. Endlessly rewatchable, thanks to Mulligan's luminosity.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

What a great article. I love this movie so so so much.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

goran: I loved her in DRIVE, too. She's my favourite performance in the movie. I want her and Oscar Isaac to have a film where they're playing off each other more. I loved INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS but it wasn't really about the two of them playing off each other.

April 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

I feel the same way that Willy does about this film and her performance -- dull, dull, dull. Thank God that Emma Thompson appears to liven things some. Thankfully, I've enjoyed Mulligan in everything in which I've seen her since.

April 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

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