'An Education' Writer Praises Film Of Memoir British columnist Lynn Barber's memoir, An Education, is about her affair, while she was still in high school, with an older con man. She spent weekdays prepping for Oxford and weekends flying off to European cities with her lover. Barber, who was happy with the movie adaptation of the memoir, says by the time she saw the film it no longer felt like her story.
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'An Education' Writer Praises Film Of Memoir

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'An Education' Writer Praises Film Of Memoir

'An Education' Writer Praises Film Of Memoir

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

This week, we've heard a couple of writers talk about the movies that were made from their books - Jon Ronson, who wrote "The Men Who Stare at Goats," and Walter Kirn, who wrote "Up in the Air." Well today, our third and final interview is about a more faithful movie adaptation: the film made from Lynn Barber's memoir, "An Education." Barber wrote the story of her affair when she was in high school with an older man, in fact, an older conman. Barber wrote of spending weekdays prepping for Oxford and weekends flying off to European cities with her lover.

(Soundbite of movie, "An Education")

Ms. CAREY MULLIGAN (Actress): (as Jenny): Action is character, my English teacher says. I think it means that if we never did anything, we wouldn't be anybody. And I never did anything before I met you.

SIEGEL: In the movie, Lynn Barber's character is played by Carey Mulligan. Her lover is played by Peter Sarsgaard. The screenplay for "An Education," was written by the English novelist and screenwriter Nick Hornby.

Ms. LYNN BARBER (Columnist; Writer, "An Education"): I'm incredibly happier with the movie. And I think I'm a very lucky bunny to have had Nick Hornby write it. And he's made my story, which is a bit sort of prickly, he's made it more acceptable, I think. He's made all the characters just slightly nicer than they all were in my version.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARBER: And he's had some wonderful sort of flights of humor where there was just a sort of tiny little phrase of mine, which he's expended into whole funny scenes and I really admire that.

SIEGEL: One of the oddest little changes in the adaptation that you've written about was changing the year of the story. It was in 1960 that you had this affair, to 1961.

Ms. BARBER: Yes, I was very interested in that. And, in fact, the production designer and the producer explained it to me. And in 1960, England, to all intents and purposes, looked exactly the same as England in the 1950s. It was incredibly drab. There was a lot of bomb damaged. There was no glimmer of fashion in the streets. Whereas in 1961, you're just beginning to get the birth of the '60s, I mean still not really. But - and I think the art director told me that you got more colored cars in 1961. And before that, a street would have entirely consisted of dark green and black dull-looking cars. And it would have just looked dull and drab, you know.

SIEGEL: In the film, you, as a teenager, play the cello.

Ms. BARBER: Right.

SIEGEL: This is completely in the movie, it has nothing to do with your actual story.

Ms. BARBER: Absolutely, I can't play any musical instruments at all. So I was quite surprised to find myself turning into a competent cellist. I think maybe Nick Hornby played the cello at some point. And also he created the first scene. The conman picks up the school girl. He drives his car long as says, you mustn't let your cello get wet, let me give your cello a lift. And in my book, I just accepted a lift from a stranger. And Nick said well, that makes you look like a very bad girl indeed, you know. And by having this sort of film-flam of he's giving the cello a lift, therefore, that's an excuse for me to get into the car. Therefore, it's all more likable again.

SIEGEL: How does the older man in the movie compared with the real character from your life?

Ms. BARBER: I think Nick has sweetened him, made him less sleazy really than he was in real life. But this was something Nick talked to me about right at the beginning. He said we can't present him as a total conman because people wouldn't like to watch a film in which a nice, young girl fell in love with a horrible sleazy conman. So, he's got to be nicer than, you know, in my book.

SIEGEL: Why is it that we can easily read an account of people who are not nice, and people who have extremely rough edges but it's assumed that when we're captive inside a movie theatre we can't stand watching them?

Ms. BARBER: I know, but apparently that is the case. I mean, well, it's the same principle that they have to be prettier than they would be in real life, don't they? They have to be - and the settings have to be nice and, you know, you've to have some visual pleasures and character pleasures include watching nice - well, nicer. I mean, actually, you know, he still turns out to be a conman but nicer than in my book.

SIEGEL: Well, by the time that you saw the film�

Ms. BARBER: Hmm.

SIEGEL: �did you feel I'm now looking at my story on the screen or were you looking at Nick Hornby's story on the screen? Or more�

Ms. BARBER: Yes.

SIEGEL: �the director's story.

Ms. BARBER: Yes, more Nick Hornby's. And by the time I actually saw the film, I put in the contract that I got to see every draft of the script and comment on it. And sometimes if I didn't like something, Nick would change it, you know. And so, I was pretty familiar with the script by the time I saw the film. And it no longer really felt like my story. I was actually thinking oh - how will it end? What happens? And I thought, gosh, I should know that by now.

(Soundbite of laughter)


(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: But was it a no-lose situation? That is, did you walk in and saying: if this movie is really good, it's a wonderful movie associated with me and�

Ms. BARBER: Yes.

SIEGEL: �if it isn't what did I have to with it? I just�

Ms. BARBER: Exactly, exactly. I felt very lucky from that point of view. What I had feared was that he might coarsen it slightly or give it a sort of lowly (unintelligible) tinge where there was a sort of relish for the fact that there were school girls getting undressed, you know, what I mean?


Ms. BARBER: But I mean, in fact, he totally, totally didn't. And also by having a woman director they sort of ensured that that wouldn't happen. But that was my one fear.

SIEGEL: How do you deal with the idea that although you're a very successful journalist and people have been reading you in Britain and elsewhere for years and your book is going to be published in the U.S. now, the number of people who will see a film - this is so large - that that's you, that for people who don't know you, Carey Mulligan in "An Education," that's you? That's Lynn Barber.

Ms. BARBER: Yes, well, that's quite - yeah, now that's quite an attractive thought actually. The only sort of other side of that is that among people who do know me, I do get a bit agitated if they keep saying how much they like the film and they don't say I like the book. And the people I like most are those who say they like the film but, of course, they still love the book more. So, that's a bit of a test. But yes, I mean the idea that - I don't know, in Bangkok or something - that they would form an idea of Lynn Barber�

SIEGEL: Oh, Lynn Barber, yes, Lynn Barber I remember her.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: She played the cello as kid and had affair with Peter Sarsgaard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BARBER: Well, I suppose it is strange but anyway it's all good fun actually.

SIEGEL: Lynn Barber, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. BARBER: Well, thank you.

SIEGEL: Lynn Barber's book "An Education," will be published in the States next month. It is the basis for the film "An Education."

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: This is NPR.

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