An Education movie poster
An Education movie poster

There is "Oscar buzz" in Hollywood for the performance of rising young star Carey Mulligan as a teenager learning some life lessons in a bittersweet film written by English novelist Nick Hornby and directed by Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig.

It is 1961 and 16-year-old Jenny is bored with her life in suburban London where everything revolves around school and her father's determination that she gets accepted at Oxford.
But it all changes one rainy afternoon when, as Jenny struggles through the puddles with her cello, David pulls up in his car and rolls down the window.

He is twice her age, but charming and worldly and does all the things Jenny is in a hurry to do herself. From that chance meeting, a relationship grows that will change her in ways she can hardly imagine.

Carey Mulligan plays Jenny and says the screenplay by Nick Hornby gave her plenty of insight into the world of a 1961 teenager.

Carey Mulligan as Jenny in An Education
Carey Mulligan as Jenny in <i>An Education</i>

"I think so much of it came from the script and how he had written her interacting with the people around her. I think what informed her age more than anything was the way she treated people in her life," she says. "I did like travelling back to the 1960's. It was great and I tried to speak to a lot of people about what it was like to be a teenager (then) …I mean aside from the costumes and all that sort of thing, there was the music and the culture and everything. We didn't do a huge amount of pre-production, but it was fun."

Director Lone Scherfig says getting the details of the era right is important, but that authenticity has to serve the story.

Director Lone Scherfig on the set of the movie
Director Lone Scherfig on the set of the movie

"It is a bit of a trap because in England they do a lot of period (films) and they are really good at it. They have the most wonderful prop houses and costume houses and they come in with all the dusty BBC gear and now we're going to do the period; but you've got to make sure that the emotion and the drama come first and then all the props and costumes come later. Otherwise it's going to be a museum piece," he says.

Scherfig says one of the biggest challenges was to create a sense of innocence - or, perhaps, naïveté - in the relationship between a teenaged girl and an older man. American actor Peter Sarsgaard plays David and believes his character genuinely cares for Jenny.

Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan in scene from <
Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan in scene from <i>An Education</i>

"It is not that they are in love, but they are 'simpatico.' They both are trying to live extraordinary lives (and) find someone else who is not willing to settle for an ordinary life. (My character), to have an extraordinary life, sometimes steal things; she, in order to have an extraordinary life, is willing to break the mold and potentially drop out of school. That's what really draws them together for me," he says.

Among the valuable lessons Jenny learns from David is how deadly secrets can be to a relationship; and Mulligan says the love-struck teenager gets a cold and bitter dose of reality.

Carey Mulligan in scene from An Education
Carey Mulligan in scene from <i>An Education</i>

"She goes into this thinking she can have it both ways. She can have this interesting, exciting life and then, at the same time, pass her exams and get into Oxford and either carry on this relationship or she'll meet someone else; but I can see why she'd want to escape," Mulligan admits. " Not just her own life, but London was not an interesting place to be. There were no real teenagers. It wasn't like there was any community for teenagers. No one was having any fun and she is just stuck learning things for the sake of learning them, ticking boxes, because she has this agenda to get to Oxford."

An Education also features Emma Thompson as the headmistress of Jenny's school. Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour are her well-meaning parents. Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike play David's sophisticated friends. Writer Nick Hornby adapted the screenplay from a memoir by journalist Lynn Barber.