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Image of Carey Mulligan and Dominic Cooper in An Education

A London Education

Date posted: 30.10.2009

"Life’s a little brighter with him around", gushes Jenny excitedly about her new boyfriend.

Directed by Lone Scherfig, An Education is a coming-of-age comedy drama, set in 1960s London, which follows in the footsteps of a love-struck teen.

Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is instantly beguiled by the charm and lifestyle of an older man, as David (Peter Sarsgaard) relieves Jenny of her mundane middle class existence. Before their paths cross, her life firmly revolves around getting an education – an ambition put upon Jenny by her enthusiastic parents (Alfred Molina as Jack and Cara Seymour as Majorie).

Jenny’s life in London was once very simple – traversing between her modest house, her private school and the local café. As soon as David is introduced to the story, the capital starts to look very different to her once innocent eyes. Whereas her comfort zone is in the plain red brick of an average family home in suburbia, she quickly becomes accustomed to the affluent white stucco terraces of the West End.

An Education is a low-budget independent British feature based on a screenplay by Nick Hornby, adapted from Lynn Barber's memoirs. Scenes predominantly take place in London, although the crew did shoot for 24 hours in Oxford and also spent an intense couple of days in Paris.

The choice of locations helps to highlight the opposing lifestyles that Jenny and David both lead, as explained by location manager Camilla Stephenson (Eastern Promises, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason). It was a conscious decision to set the unassuming streets of Ealing against the hustle and bustle of central London and the stark interiors of The Japanese School against the rich opulence of Café De Paris – where Jenny and David go on their first date.

As budgets were tight, it was important that locations could be re-used and re-purposed. Witanhurst, the Georgian-style mansion in Highgate, was used for multiple interiors – namely Christie’s auction house, the office of the school’s Headmistress (played by Emma Thompson) and the grandiose apartment of David’s best friend, Danny (Dominic Cooper). It even proved so versatile that it doubled for a B&B in Oxford and a Paris hotel room.

The production team was fortunate enough to shoot at this well-known location before it became unavailable for filming. In fact, An Education immortalises more than one historic site in London. Besides Witanhurst, the crew also shot at Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium and Bloomsbury Service Station before they were permanently closed.

The service station was an immaculate example from its time – with just the modern petrol pumps needing to be changed in order to ensure it sat comfortably in the world of the characters.

Set dressing can be an expensive undertaking, so the location team went to great lengths to secure sites that needed minimal manipulation. Prime examples of this in the finished film are the riverside drive in Richmond (as this stretch has retained its original street furniture, just the single yellow lines in the road needed to be covered) and the greengrocer’s near Jenny’s local café which had a near perfect 1960s feel to it.

An Education was partly shot at Twickenham Studios – one of the UK's oldest surviving sites of its kind. Although some scenes taking place at Jenny’s house were shot on location, the interior was rebuilt at the Studios - with floating walls that offered the crew more flexibility for camera movement.

An Education wonderfully captures the essence of the era through the strict attention to detail given to various elements, such as the production design and music. Immerse yourself in days gone by and head to the cinema.

An Education goes on general release today.

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