Set in a drab London suburb in 1961, story centers on Jenny (Mulligan), a bright sixteen-year-old in the throes of late adolescence who’s dutifully preparing for Oxford but secretly dying for something exciting to happen. That something takes the intriguing form of Peter (Sarsgaard), a suave thirty-something playboy with a cool car who offers Jenny a lift during a rainstorm. Jenny quickly falls for him and his posh circle, including Helen (Pike) and Danny (Cooper). Even Jenny’s anxious, straitlaced parents (Molina and Seymour) are won over by Peter’s charm and seeming sophistication. But all that glitters is not gold.
Boasting a sharp screenplay from Nick Hornsby (“High Fidelity”), Scherfig’s subtle, evocative film benefits mightily from Mulligan’s star making performance, which brought her a Best Actress Oscar nod. Her Jenny is no clueless victim, but a vibrant young woman hungry to explore this rarefied, adult world, and damn the consequences. Mastering a British accent, Sarsgaard also resonates as Peter, whose surface erudition hide some less admirable qualities. Among a stellar ensemble, Molina breaks your heart as Jenny’s anxious father. Superb costume and set design immerse us in the distinctive vibe of early sixties London. For this “Education”, you won’t mind going back to school.