Sunday, 26 September 2010

Brit Film #2: An Education

Once upon a time I was given a little known book called Fever Pitch. Unlike any football books at that time, it was not about the game or the players - it was about what it was like to be a fan. And not just any fan, but an Arsenal fan. Nick Horby's book, and subsequent movie, were for all of us, and as a result I have always had a special affinity for the author. His first two novels High Fidelity and About A Boy, were outstanding, and made impressive movie adaptations. Back in 2002 I did some work experience at Working Title Films and was allowed a sneak peak at a script co-written by him and Emma Thompson. But a screenwriting career has never taken off for one reason or another. So it was with great interest that I came upon An Education, which didn't immediately suggest it was obvious movie material. (Nick Hornby himself writes about the trials and tribulations of getting not just this film off the ground, but the film industry in general. It makes fascinating, if a little scary, reading.)

I read the An Education script before I saw the movie, and thought it was beautifully crafted. Dave's script review (and my comments) can be read here. But what's interesting is that what works and what you can do on paper, is not necessarily the same on screen. For example, in the script, as I said in my comments, what really works is that David comes across as genuine and charming. You're a bit uncomfortable, but you get carried away with it just as Jenny does. On screen though, the image of David you have in your head is replaced by the very real 31 year old Peter Sarsgaard - and suddenly things are very uncomfortable indeed. It's harder to believe, despite the charisma and charm, how on earth Jenny's parents can let her swan around with this much older man. The fact that is based on Lynn Barber's memoirs (what on earth were her parents thinking!) is irrelevant. But in any event that shouldn't take anything away from the brilliant script and superb performances.

It's a fantastic character study. Jenny is by far and away the smartest person in the movie - but when the denouement comes and she realises she doesn't really know anything she needs to know to get by in this world, it's an incredible moment. By the same token, Alfred Molina as her father, Jack, is for the most part characterised in one way - ignorant, simple, a man who is very much what you see is what you get. And yet there is one scene which turns this on its head. Towards the end, he stands outside his broken hearted daughter's room and confesses he knows nothing about the world and has lived his life in fear. All her wanted for her was to not be like him. He wanted her to have an education - regardless of whether it came from Oxford or a man of the world like David. It's screenwriting of the highest order.

But why have a picked it for this series of analysing successful British films. Well it's pretty obvious isn't it. As with In the Loop it got an Oscar nomination. And not just one. But one for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. It's a classy movie and all those involved have had their reputations enhanced. And they also achieved the seemingly impossible. Despite being a drama (no one wants dramas... apparently) and a period piece (goodness me are they mad) according to internet figures it made over three times its budget. Not a hit, for sure. But actually more profitable than In the Loop. And hopefully, all this will make getting the next project off the ground for all those involved, that little bit easier.

No comments: