Olivia Williams Provides An Education of Substance
I turned to the textbooks this year to uncover an entry for Stinkylulu’s 4th Annual Supporting Actress Blogathon. Although Carey Mulligan's spirited performance as Jenny in An Education is a hot contender for an Oscar nomination after racking up major awards this season via her star-making role, one of her costars held at least an equal amount of intrigue for me. Portraying the character of Miss Stubbs, Jenny’s forthright, no-nonsense teacher, Olivia Williams lends originality and flair to a role that could easily have come across as uninteresting and lifeless in less talented hands. Although at first glance, peering behind her spectacles at her students with a tight-lipped countenance, the seemingly colorless Miss Stubbs appears to fall into the category of the lonely spinster schoolteacher seen without much variation in scores of films, via Williams’ adept interpretation, the audience immediately senses there's a lot more to this educator than meets the eyeglasses.
There’s a sharp, terse alertness and a regal bearing that cuts through Miss Stubbs opaque personality and, later, a warmth that proves this teacher cares for Jenny, and for the gifted pupil’s outcome. In one of the movie’s most vivid, moving scenes, Miss Stubbs tells Jenny she shouldn’t waste her future by leaving school to marry, and that she needs to go to Oxford as originally planned, “No matter what.” In this moment, the viewer senses that the conscientious Miss Stubbs is absolutely right- Jenny should not be chucking her college plans to live in the moment with her cagey older finance, David, who really is something of a creep. Later, after Jenny has dropped the ball concerning her scholastic endeavors and seeks Miss Stubbs assistance to get back on track with her schooling, Williams superbly conveys the teacher’s strong supportive nature, and makes it clear that, with this woman’s assistance, Jenny can find the path back to academic success.
Although Jenny can’t get her parents to address her finance’s conniving behavior, I’m sure if he’d met up with Miss Stubbs during the course of the film, the grounded teacher could tell him plenty. Indeed, before Jenny has faced the reality of her situation with her sly suitor, Miss Stubbs has already bluntly suggested to the starry-eyed youngster that she’s ruining her life via her engagement. Jenny coolly counters this criticism by questioning how rewarding a lifestyle similar to Miss Stubbs’ could be in comparison, but Williams makes it obvious the forward-thinking Miss Stubbs’ satisfying career and mature outlook on life is preferable to the troublesome situation Jenny finds herself facing. Williams' thoughtful portrayal keeps a viewer interested in the sage, mysterious Miss Stubbs, to the point that one begins to wonder what her background is (I could eagerly view another “coming of age” story, this one focused on the fascinating character of Miss Stubbs during her formative years).
Williams' quiet, resourceful performance in An Education enables a viewer to admire Miss Stubbs as an intelligent, independent spirit who knows what’s best for herself and for her students. Although there’s not a lot of “flashy” characteristics to the role, Williams invests rich, intriguing layers to her character and enriches the film’s quality considerably in the process. Her smart, skillful contribution to An Education should not be underestimated; Williams’ work as Miss Stubbs is of top-of-the-class caliber, and this fine performer deserves an A+ for her sublime portrait of a somewhat conservative, yet liberated woman.