Exclusive: RT Visits the Set of An Education

Nick Hornby, Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan chat coming of age.

An EducationThere's a general impression of the British film industry that if we're not producing cockney gangster flicks or sweeping romantic period pieces then we're working on a yet another quirky rom-com. In the affluent suburb of Acton in London, RT has come to the set of An Education, a film that dares to be different. While the script bursts with humour, this is a film that's decidedly deeper than the usual Richard Curtis fare, daring to explore topics as controversial today as they've ever been and to challenge preconceptions about the journey out of adolescence.

It's no surprise to learn that it comes from the pen of one of Britain's most celebrated contemporary novelists, Nick Hornby. Like High Fidelity, About a Boy and Fever Pitch, An Education sings with a certain tone unique to Hornby's material and is populated with interesting, real and engaging characters. It's no wonder Variety had it on their list of the best unproduced British screenplays in 2007.

Set in the early 60s, the film tells the tale of Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a sharp 16-year-old with sights set on entry to Oxford at the encouragement of her father Jack (Alfred Molina). She meets a handsome older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard), whose position on the social ladder and passion for high-class enjoyment enraptures both her and her parents and is the catalyst for a budding romance.

The story is based on a piece of memoir written by Observer journalist Lynn Barber about her experiences growing up. "I was fascinated to read the story initially just because Lynn Barber usually writes about other people, not autobiographically," Hornby explains. "I finished it and said to Amanda, 'I think there's a film in this.'"

An Education
Jenny (Carey Mulligan) enjoys a post-coital cigarette with David (Peter Sarsgaard) in An Education.

Producer Amanda Posey, Hornby's wife, brought the story to Finola Dwyer, and the pair started to seek writers for the project. Ultimately they came back to Hornby, who signed on to write his first screenplay not adapted from his own work. With Danish director Lone Scherfig at the helm, and with Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams, Dominic Cooper and Emma Thompson rounding off the cast list, An Education began production in mid-March.

For the film's Jenny, 22 year-old Carey Mulligan, whose previous experience includes roles as Kitty Bennet in Joe Wright's 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice, and Ada Clare in the BBC's adaptation of Dickens' Bleak House, An Education is an opportunity to showcase her talent and clear propensity for strong material. "The script is brilliant and so funny," she tells RT, "I hadn't realised how funny until the read-through, because there are bits that come out in the reading of it. Nick writes such wonderful female characters. Jenny is so well written and so specifically 16 in the 60s and it's so much fun to play."

Today, as the production films a variety of shots outside a period school building that'll be slotted throughout the film, the crew are battling against the British weather, as film crews are wont to do in this country. But rather than waiting for gaps in the rain, they're waiting for clouds to move over the sun and have watered down everything in shot. Just when you want rain, and dull, grey skies, Britain decides to let the sun shine.

An Education
Behind the scenes, screenwriter Nick Hornby and director Lone Scherfig watch the action on the set of An Education.

It's a far cry from the Dogme '95 roots of director Scherfig who's used to strict rules against artificiality in filmmaking, but she's clearly enjoying herself and seems to have set a standard on set for calm that's making our visit a much more pleasurable one than we're used to from the usual bustle of a film set. Faith in the material seems to have inspired everyone here to relax and enjoy their work.

"It's much easier to shoot a good script than a not-so-good script," says Scherfig when she takes a break to speak to RT. "It makes my work a lot easier, that Nick has been so thorough and detailed and psychologically sensitive. It has much depth and much detail and humour and it's quite moving. I feel comfortable in this kind of genre, even if I'm not English and it's a very English world the film takes place in."

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