An Education | 2009
Lynn Barber’s memoir (surprisingly adapted by Nick Hornby, author of laddish books About A Boy and High Fidelity) is set at the dawn of the 1960s, with precocious 16-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan) beginning to feel pangs of rebellion as her parents and teachers groom her for a university education.
As home to the famous film studios, the area around Twickenham, southwest London, is regularly required to stand-in for other parts of the country, so it seems strangely perverse that this story, which is set in Twickenham and filmed at the studios, finds its exterior locations around Ealing.
The suburban home in which Jenny is stifled by her pushy but reactionary dad (Alfred Molina), is 45 Carbery Avenue, north of Gunnersbury Park in Acton Town, W3. Although some scenes were indeed filmed in the house, the interior was rebuilt in the Twickenham Studios to allow the camera more flexibility.
A little less than a mile to the north, the Japanese School, 87 Creffield Road in West Acton, becomes becomes the establishment where Jenny alternately impresses and infuriates the teaching staff. Serving London’s Japanese community, and operated by the Japanese Ministry of Education, the school occupies the former Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls.
Further west, in Ealing W13, ‘Café Trevi’, where Jenny and her schoolfriends gather to gossip and discuss French existentialism, was Café Rosetta, 3a St John’s Parade, on Churchfield Road at Mattock Lane. Although the Rosetta has since closed, it’s now Amalfi Caffé .
Outside the school, on Creffield Road, Jenny – and her cello – accepts a lift from the charming and sophisticated David (Peter Sarsgaard) in his classy maroon Bristol 405, and begins to discover a new and impossibly glamorous world.
David takes Jenny to a Ravel concert at St John’s Smith Square, in Westminster, where she meets his smooth operator friend Danny (Dominic Cooper) with jovial, if none-too-bright, girlfriend Helen (Rosamund Pike) in tow. The 18th century Baroque church of St John’s, which now really is a music venue, plays a much more serious role in another recent literary adaptation, Joe Wright’s film of Atonement.
The formal sobriety of the cultural evening is swiftly followed by a table for four at snazzy West End nightspot, ‘Juliette’s’. Behind the sultry black and purple set-dressing lies the red and gilt of the Café de Paris, 3 Coventry Street, between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.
During the Blitz, when most of the West End closed down, the club remained open on the assumption that it was bomb-proof. Tragically, this turned out not to be the case, and a direct hit killed 34 people.
Rebuilt, it continued to provide entertainment for the glitterati until it hit a slump in the Eighties, when it found fame as a movie backdrop, for Absolute Beginners, Scandal, The Krays; and the Café slummed it a little as the ‘Soho’ strip club where John Goodman relaxed in King Ralph. It bounced back as a decadent 'Vegas' club in X-Men: First Class. In 2020, following the Covid lockdown, it finally closed its doors for good. It had to be recreated in the studio for the Sixties scenes of Edgar Wright's Last Night In Soho.
The high life is simply par for the course for Danny, who lives in a spacious luxury pad on Cumberland Terrace, NW1, alongside Regent’s Park.
The interior of his flat, though, is one of many appearances of Witanhurst, on Highgate West Hill at The Grove in Highgate, N6 – the largest private home in London. This vast Georgian-style mansion (built in the Twenties) proved remarkably adaptable for the production, supplying not only Danny’s apartment but the interior of 'Christie’s' auction house (where Jenny buys a Burne-Jones painting for 200 guineas), the wood-panelled office of Jenny’s no-nonsense headmistress (Emma Thompson), as well as the ‘Oxford’ B&B and the ‘Parisian’ hotel room later in the film.
Witanhurst has also hosted filming for the 2002 film of Nicholas Nickleby, with Charlie Hunnam, and for 2009’s Dorian Gray.
David’s true character and occupation are ominously hinted at as he stops to sort out a little business, which involves moving a West Indian family into a house on Mornington Crescent at Mornington Place, NW1, at the southern end of Camden High Street. This photogenically rundown location was previously seen as the IRA hideout in 1952 drama The Gentle Gunman, with Dirk Bogarde, and crops up as a hotel in Rowan Joffe’s 2010 version of Brighton Rock.
Having charmed Jenny’s parents, the increasingly untrustworthy David persuades them to let their daughter spend the weekend in Oxford, with his ‘Aunt Helen’, on the pretext of meeting CS (“Clive”) Lewis – author of the Chronicles of Narnia books.
There are a couple of scene-setting glimpses of Oxford, including the Sheldonian Theatre, but the ‘Oxford’ pub in which David brazenly forges an inscription from Lewis, is Crocker's Folly, 24 Aberdeen Place in Maida Vale, NW8. This gem of a boozer, with a history as colourful and dubious as one of David’s stories, has been seen in Warren Beatty’s Oscar-winning 1982 epic Reds, two Oliver Parker-Oscar Wilde adaptations, The Importance Of Being Earnest and Dorian Gray, and more recently in Captain America: The First Avenger. After been closed and shuttered for many years, the one-time Victorian gin palace has been restored as an elegant gastropub.
The village in which David and Danny stop off to pull a dubious deal (OK, steal a map) is Turville, off the B482 about five miles west of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. The picturesque locale is well within the catchment area of major studios – film buffs might recognise it as the setting for the excellent Graham Greene-scripted 1942 WWII drama Went The Day Well?
Having found out how David and his chum make their money, Jenny nevertheless has few qualms about celebrating her 17th birthday with him (and his trusted ‘Aunt’, of course) in Paris. A few tourist shots set the scene – the bookstalls along the Rive Gauche, the Quai de la Tournelle behind Notre Dame and the western tip of the Ile de la Cité opposite the Pont des Arts, though as we’ve seen, despite the view of Sacre Coeur, the hotel room is back in London’s Highgate.
It’s at the old Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium that David and Danny have a business meeting with Peter Rachman. The East London stadium has closed down and, despite protests, is scheduled for demolition. Rachman, incidentally, was a real person, a nasty piece of work whose name became synonymous with exploitative slum landlords of the time.
On the way to their engagement celebration meal, Jenny’s growing concerns about David are horribly confirmed as she discovers shocking details of his real life in the glove compartment of the Bristol.
‘The Village Garage’, at which they stop to fill up, was the Bloomsbury Service Station, on Store Street at Ridgmount Street, WC1, behind the British Museum. Only the modern petrol pumps needed to be changed to fit the film’s period but, having survived virtually unchanged since 1926, since filming it’s been totally modernised.