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Originally published November 5, 2009 at 3:02 PM | Page modified November 5, 2009 at 5:46 PM

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Movie review

'An Education' you won't forget

A review of 'An Education,' a coming-of-age movie starring the captivating and mercurial Carey Mulligan — and Peter Sarsgaard as a charming and somewhat sinister older man.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 4 stars

'An Education,' with Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson. Directed by Lone Scherfig, from a screenplay by Nick Hornby, based on a memoir by Lynn Barber. 95 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including sexual content, and for smoking. Egyptian.

Teenage girls, around 16 or 17, flicker like candles: One minute they look terribly young, then with a switch of mood or change of light, they suddenly appear to be grown women as years pass in an instant.

Capturing this mercurial quality can be a tricky task for an actress, but a few have triumphed in recent years: Romola Garai in "I Capture the Castle," Emily Blunt in "My Summer of Love," Amanda Seyfried on TV's "Big Love" — and now, gloriously, Carey Mulligan in "An Education."

Previously best known for portraying the very picture of dimpled innocence in the fine BBC TV series "Bleak House," Mulligan here plays Jenny, a 16-year-old eager to be grown up, yet still not quite sure what being grown-up means.

Lone Scherfig's brief and delicately nuanced film (based on a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber, adapted with warmth and wisdom by novelist Nick Hornby) never finds a false note.

Jenny is a middle-class girl in early-1960s London whose parents desperately want her to get into Oxford. She'd rather listen to French songstresses and dream of a wildly sophisticated existence.

One day, an older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard), drives up in a red car and speaks to her. She's flattered at being singled out, and a relationship that will be "an education" slowly unfolds.

Sarsgaard, an actor who knows exactly what to do with his trademark faint shade of menace, shows both the charm Jenny falls for and a slightly awkward uncertainty that makes us wonder just who this fellow really is.

Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour are touchingly real as Jenny's parents. Emma Thompson, crisp as a November morning, plays to the hilt her few scenes as Jenny's headmistress. Rosamund Pike, looking like a dreamy Bond Girl, is deliciously funny as a friend of David's.

But the movie belongs to Mulligan, whose Jenny looks like Audrey Hepburn when she puts her hair up and dons a black dress, and like every teenage girl who's had her heart broken when she cries.

She gazes at the world as if she'd like to eat it; even as she realizes, by the end, that she's older but not yet wise.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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