Jenny (Carey Mulligan) only sixteen years old, lives in a London suburban street in 1961, everything is comfortable, safe and crushingly dull. Carefully pouring over her Latin homework she strives towards an Oxford University place that her well intentioned mother (Cara Seymour) and father (Alfred Molina) aspire to.
This is a time when a potential young boyfriend comes to tea and announces he wishes to “go travelling”, this is met with shocked silence and colossal disapproval, “Are you a Teddy Boy?” Jenny’s father asks.
Jenny is a good girl but her head is turned by a worldly, sophisticated man twice her age, David (Peter Saarsgard). David, with his sharp business partner Danny (Dominic Cooper) and the rather spectacularly intellectually challenged Helen (Rosamund Pike), introduces Jenny into a world she has only ever read about, Art, Jazz clubs and trips to Paris.
Jenny’s parents are equally bewitched allowing their daughter to be pulled into a world they too are beginning to enjoy. It is obvious that their usual standards of caution are abandoned, although their rush to give up on their daughters dreams, the moment there is marriage in the air, is both saddening but also perhaps conformingly realistic for the time.
This is a slight tale but brought to life with a wondrous, delicate, Oscar nominated, central performance from Mulligan who resembles a young Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Mulligan is by turns, sexy, naive, demure and worldly all contained within a believable performance for a girl in her circumstances.
Despite outward appearances there is a constant underlying sense of unease, it all just seems too good to be true. Perhaps this will question whether you are a half full glass or half empty person, there will be no plot spoilers here. David, well played by Saarsgard who is very charming, makes the world a brighter place for all of the characters, whenever he is around.
The period detail appears expensively accurate and the contrast between the two lives is juxtaposed well. It is also interesting to see most of the characters lighting up cigarettes at every opportunity, both in clubs and restaurants, this will look very quaint to most contemporary audiences.
If there is a complaint, perhaps the ending is rather tidy, indicating more fantasy than reality. The head teacher, an effective Emma Thompson, providing a more accurate indication of how events might have transpired.
A beautiful performance from Carey Mulligan who we are surely to see more of. Excellent period setting and with just enough under the surface unease to bring the film well above your average BBC funded venture.