A feminist coming of age story about a young 16 year old British girl in 1961 England being swept off her feet in a romance with an older man, forcing her to choose between the traditional patriarchal role of marriage and the life of educated independence.
The very first shots of the film show school girls learning posture, dancing, and cooking which immediately set up the traditional notion that even a girl’s schooling is to prepare her for marriage. Jenny wants to go to Oxford to read English. Her parents are traditional in their relationship as well, being depicted as goodly and kind, yet hopelessly anachronistic. So when a dashing young man in his 20s, David, draws Jenny into a world of fun, dancing, restaraunts, art, and travel, she begins to question what the whole purpose of this boring schooling is for anyway.
The examples of “liberated” women are a school marm looking single female English teacher and the principle of the school, another uptight woman who believes education is salvation. They are made to look undesirable and education is made to look undesirable, but only for the moment. Jenny even gives a rather fair assessment from a teen’s perspective of how everyone around her talks of how important it is to be educated, yet everyone in education is boring, boring, boring, so why should she devote herself to a boring independent life instead of really having the fun and enjoyment? Jenny’s father reveals that even his desire for her education is only to make her more appealing to a rich man like David. And David even proposes marriage to Jenny, which she accepts at first, and gives up her education.
But ultimately David is shown to be a deceiver. He makes all his money through questionable, even illegal transactions. He steals, he moves black families into neighborhoods in order to buy old lady’s homes for cheaper when they sell out of racist fear. Oh yeah, and David is also secretly already married to another woman. And this is not the first time he’s done this to other women. He also happens to be Jewish, which makes this movie anti-Semitic in it’s affirmation of “the Wandering Jew” a racist myth from the middle ages of the Jew as satanic tempter, wandering around, making money by exploiting people and tempting them away from salvation. But in this case, salvation is feminist education, making this film anti-semitic feminist theory. Ironic, too, that this anti-Semitic movie would even make a reference to “the Wandering Jew” from the mouth of the father, who is, depicted in this story as ultimately being right.
Jenny is able to get back on track and manages to make it to Oxford, so she is “saved” at the end through education, a myth of the Enlightenment worldview. But it is clear that this movie is about everything not being as it appears. The traditional view of marriage of the man providing and taking care of the woman appears to be romantic at first, but is ultimately destructive seduction. The life of the liberated woman appears to be boring and lonely and uptight, but is ultimately salvation. Every man in the film is either a deceiver or a fool, and every woman who buys into this traditional interpretation is depicted as mindless (David’s partner’s girlfriend who is proud of her shallow ignorance) or a kept woman (Jenny’s mother).
The real education in this film is the education of experience that Jenny has with David, learning that the traditional notions of marriage is a seductive deception that ruins women’s lives by keeping them from independence, and education is salvation.