Danish director Lone Scherfig was an unlikely choice for a very English affair like An Education: her previous films include Italian for Beginners (2000) – the only comedy from the Dogme movement (Danish avant-garde filmmaking started by Lars Von Trier) – and Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2002). Just how did she pin down suburban London on the verge of a youthquake?
An Education is a refreshing coming-of-age story. In no way is Jenny a victim...
‘Nick Hornby says it has a little bit of Jane Austen somewhere in it – a heroine trying to find an identity that she can’t describe, and a relationship with someone who is both seductive and dangerous. But this was a period when times were changing a lot faster.’
Because London was about to start swinging?
‘As a viewer you know the time Jenny is headed for really well, even if you weren’t born yet: the Rolling Stones and psychedelia, mind-altering drugs and The Beatles. All of that.’
How did you get the script?
‘Nick and I have the same agent. He had read [Lynn Barber’s memoir] and said to his wife [the film’s producer Amanda Posey] that she should think about commissioning it. She did. And when the producers were talking about writers he was feeling chipped – is that the right word?
‘Yes, he felt chippy and finally suggested himself.’ The film softens the edges a bit. Lynn Barber has called the real-life David character [played by Peter Sarsgaard, pictured right] a borderline paedophile...
‘We have emphasised the love they had for one another. When you read her piece, it’s much more about him as a ticket to the life she wants to lead. I wanted it to be a love story. There should be moments in the film where they love one another – just not at the same time.’
Because the film’s so particular to post-war Britain, did you have to prove that a Danish director could get it?
‘Yes. But if I didn’t feel that I could do it, I wouldn’t have wanted to do it. It’s worse to make a bad film. But I felt that Nick’s tone was something that I could handle. And it has similarities with my previous work, even if it’s a different world and a different language altogether.’
In what way? Warmth for the characters, maybe?
‘And comedy. In Italian for Beginners you have five people dying in the first 20 minutes and no one seems to remember that. That film is about sorrow, but everyone remembers it as a romantic comedy.’
Carey Mulligan was nominated for an Oscar, but was there pressure to cast a bigger name?
‘No, there wasn’t any pressure. I’ve been really surprised to see how her name has exploded. She’s becoming a household name before anyone has seen her. I’m talking to journalists now who tell me how lucky I was to get to work with Carey Mulligan. And I was! She’s such an obvious talent. And if we hadn’t found her, someone else would have.’
Lynn Barber has a fearsome reputation for telling it how she sees it. Did you worry about showing her the film?
‘I worried because I would have had a moral problem if she had disliked it, because it will always be part of her family photo album. So it was great to hear her laugh. But I don’t know her very well, and I don’t know her writing very well. So I don’t know how afraid I would have been!’
An Education is in cinemas from April 15.
Top of the class: An Education in awards
Nominated Best Actress: Carey Mulligan
Nominated Best Film
Nominated Outstanding British Film
Nominated Best Direction
Won Best Actress: Carey Mulligan
Nominated Best Screenplay
Nominated Best Picture
Nominated Best Actress
Nominated Best Adapted Screenplay
Sundance Film Festival 2009
Won World Cinema Audience
Won World Cinema Cinematography Award: Dramatic
Nominated Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema Dramatic