Nick Hornby on writing ‘An Education’

Posted by · 2:30 pm · October 3rd, 2009

Nick HornbyAmid the swirl of hype for “An Education” that’s been building for eight months now, there’s been surprisingly little mention of the man who is easily the biggest name involved with the film: superstar novelist Nick Hornby, whose free adaptation of Lynn Barber’s memoir looks certain to land him in the Best Adapted Screenplay pack.

The film is only Hornby’s second successful stab at writing for film, 12 years after he adapted his own novel “Fever Pitch” for the screen. However, as he states in this Wall Street Journal interview, the gap between screen credits wasn’t for lack of trying:

While several of his novels have been successfully adapted into movies, including “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy,” the 52-year-old Mr. Hornby has seen most of his screenplays fizzle in development, including a collaboration with actress Emma Thompson that “we just couldn’t get right.”

He continues:

The novelist says that, format aside, writing for the screen wasn’t that different. “This story of a smart girl who’s frightened of missing out on life, in some ways, is the story of my first book,” he says. Published in 1992, “Fever Pitch” was an autobiographical story about purging childhood anxieties through an obsession with the Arsenal soccer team.

What the article doesn’t mention is what an interesting, and rather unlikely, candidate Hornby was for the project in the first place. Hornby’s bestselling fiction tends to deal with male anxieties in contemporary Britain, generally via neurotic, blokey alter-egos such as those embodied on screen by Hugh Grant and John Cusack in “About a Boy” and the Americanized “High Fidelity, rrespectively.

So he’s not the first person most would think of to adapt a delicate girl’s coming-of-age story. (Luckily for him, his wife, Amanda Posey, is the film’s producer.) But the match-up works beautifully: not just because Hornby brings the same level of wry sociological detail (and adoration for London) that characterizes his prose, but because his understanding of the male psyche make Alfred Molina’s weary dad and Peter Sarsgaard’s charismatic wideboy far richer foils for Carey Mulligan’s protagonist than they are in Barber’s original memoir.

In the interview, he explains that upping the charm of Sarsgaard’s character was a deliberate move to dodge the “problem of exploitation” inherent in the sizable age gap between the characters. Speaking of age, he also admits to initially being opposed to the casting of Mulligan: believing the actress to be too old for the role, he feared she would “wreck the whole film.”

Suffice to say he’s okay with how things turned out.

→ 9 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

9 responses so far

  • 1 10-03-2009 at 3:09 pm

    Encore Entertainment said...

    Carey Mulligan’s looks way young though…

  • 2 10-03-2009 at 4:04 pm

    Matthew said...

    While I love Mulligan in the film, she did look a fair amount older than the other female students in the classroom. Hornby’s fear is entirely rational. Luckily, Mulligan distracted everyone with her amazing performance. Great performances all around actually. I particularly liked Olivia Williams too. The movie itself was, in my opinion, not phenomenal – I’m not a big fan of Lone Sherfig’s direction – but the performances and the writing were excellent.

  • 3 10-03-2009 at 5:28 pm

    andrew said...

    So you’ve seen the film now Guy? Or am I misinterpreting this? If so, what did you think?

  • 4 10-03-2009 at 5:38 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yeah, I’ve seen the film. I like it a great deal — elegiac and witty, and it goes without saying that Mulligan is a marvel. I’ll get into some more detailed thoughts somewhere down the line.

  • 5 10-03-2009 at 6:31 pm

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    I cannot wait to see this! I bought tickets today for this, “Precious”, and “Antichrist” — all of which are screening in the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal. Next weekend is going to be wonderful.

  • 6 10-03-2009 at 7:07 pm

    Jim T said...

    I saw it at a festival (Athens’ only festival I think) and I really liked it. My only problem is with the concept that education is boring. There are many kinds of fun. Having sex and travelling are not the only one (or two). I know that’s not what the film suggests and it was more about the educational system and a certain lifestyle but I was like “You’re good at this. You like it even though it’s hard. Just make some room for other stuff in your life”. Still, a good film.

    What’s wrong with Sherfig’s direction?

    I suspect I’m a bit offtopic. :p

  • 7 10-04-2009 at 6:30 am

    Donna said...

    I guess I’d just like to see a movie where having a sexual relationship is not considered the pinnacle of a young woman’s “education.” The concept gets old after a while.

  • 8 10-04-2009 at 8:09 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Donna: Have you seen the film or read the book? The “education” in question refers to something more complex than sexual awakening.

  • 9 10-05-2009 at 7:23 am

    amo said...

    i think that mulligan’s looks do “wreck the whole film” to a certain extent, but it’s a fair trade off for her amazing performance.