‘An Education’ Portrays ’60s British Anti-Semitism
And an alliance of Jewish and middle-class outsiders
An Education, the lightly fictionalized movie about the British journalist Lynn Barber’s teenaged affair with Simon Goldman, a Jewish rogue twice her age, circa 1961, opened in limited release in New York and Los Angeles over the weekend. It has gotten a lot of attention both for its adorable, Audrey Hepburn-esque star, Carey Mulligan, who is the subject of lots of early Oscar buzz for her performance as the Barber-inspired character, and for the casual, period-appropriate anti-Semitism peppered throughout Nick Hornby’s script (“I’m not a Jew!” “I wasn’t accusing you of being one!”). In the shadow of the Polanski affair, it’s more than a little awkward to watch a nubile little waif be pursued and, eventually, deflowered by an older man (a stocky-looking Peter Sarsgaard playing the fictionalized Goldman) with a flashy car and an inexhaustible wardrobe budget. But the chief moral of the story, as New York magazine film critic David Edelstein noted in his wilting assessment, seems to be “beware of Jews bearing flowers.”
That said, the most interesting thing about the film is what it says about the co-dependence of these outsider characters—a lower-middle class girl from the wrong suburb and the aging son of Jewish immigrants, a former kibbutznik armed with nothing but his wits—as they try to crack their way into London society. Of course, Barber—who told the LA Weekly that she was terribly upset Hornby made her father sound so anti-Jewish—went on to become a writer for Penthouse, while her beau’s associates wound up entangled in the 1963 Profumo affair. Goldman, Barber wrote, “in theory represented everything my parents most feared: he was not one of us, he was Jewish and cosmopolitan, practically a foreigner.” But they accepted him, and let her date him and nearly throw away her education for him, because he was charming and interesting and seemed to offer a way up into a better life. And yet. “I was afraid of something—afraid perhaps that they would see through him, see, not the James Bond figure I had depicted, but this rather short, rather ugly, long-faced, splay-footed man who talked in different accents and lied about his age, whose stories didn’t add up,” Barber wrote in her memoir, excerpted last summer in London’s Observer. “He was a liar and a thief who used charm as his jemmy to break into my parents’ house and steal their most treasured possession, which was me.”
Lynn Barber: My Age of Innocence [The Sunday Times]
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