There were fairy godmothers when I was little. Plump little women dressed all in pink, who convened at my bedside when I was asleep, to discuss my future and plan my days, occasionally touching my forehead with their star-tipped wands. Inscrutable genies lounged within oddly shaped lamps, ready and waiting to grant any wish I might make. There were magic mirrors on the walls, good fairies in the garden, and rows upon rows of eager frogs requesting kisses.
These charming characters populated my world and gave me confidence that, as long as my heart was pure and my eyes were open, they could help me navigate the labyrinth of yellow brick roads that curled round me, all the way to a most happy life. I don’t remember exactly when I realized that their power, though kindly offered, was rather limited. I suppose it was a gradual awakening.
The mundane fact is, when it comes to making one's way on the journey to a life void of regret, it really boils down to nothing more than a series of decisions. Given this, I have always considered it a weighty thought that some of these decisions, and some of the most vital ones to be sure, demand to be made when one is least equipped to do so. That is to say, when one is young.
Waves of advice crash over you when you are young, index fingers are wagged in your face, each direction proffered seems as insistent as the next - and no fairy godmother is in sight. How do we snatch the young off the technicolour carousel of carefree youth and make them see how monumental these decisions are, how inescapable their consequences? That even choosing not to choose is a choice with certain results? Truth is, we cannot. Nor should we, I suppose. For each must choose for themselves.
I was fortunate to see a film over the weekend that illustrates, with intelligence and beauty, what it is to be young at that crucial, confusing moment when these cardinal decisions must be made. An Education, directed by Lone Scherfig, is set in a rather sleepy England at the dawn of the sixties, just when that country is about to be hit by the culture changing storm of The Beatles. It stars the amazing Carey Mulligan as a sixteen year old girl at the dawn of a culture change of her own, in the midst of the roundabout of choices that only circle past at that age. Every performance in the film is spot on, especially that of the extraordinarily talented Ms. Mulligan, who has been compared to Audrey Hepburn, something I personally find does a disservice to her own uniqueness. Even Emma Thompson is there, playing an implacable headmistress with terrifying efficiency.
And a bonus.... it also has a fabulous soundtrack!
I was thrilled when I read this week that An Education was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and Carey Mulligan also for Best Actress. If this film is any indication, Ms. Mulligan has not only made some very good decisions, but the fairy godmothers who once gathered round her bedside bequeathed more than the usual share of talent.
Go see An Education and tell me what you think.
Painting above: The Princess and the Frog by William Robert Symonds