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Education Anglaise
cast: Brigitte Lahaie, Obaya Roberts, Jean-Claude Dreyfuss, and Jean Antolinos

director: Jean-Claude Roy

88 minutes (18) 1983
Naughty DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Most of the best known works of softcore pornography were the product of two conflicting forces; on the one hand there was the porn business' desire to make money by satisfying people's demand for watching attractive people having sex. On the other hand there was the fact that during the 1980s and 1990s, pornography was seen as either generally sinful or specifically degrading to women. The result of this tension was a compromise. Softcore was porn with all of the really naughty butcher's shop window elements cut-out and stripped of any politically dubious themes so that porn producers could safely sell softcore to cable TV stations as films aimed at couples. At least, that's what happened with American softcore pornography.

Education Anglaise is very much a product of the 1980s' French porn industry. It boasts the biggest star (Brigitte Lahaie) of that period and it's shot exactly the same way as a regular porn film would have been. It is also stripped of many of the ideological considerations that informed American softcore but, weirdly, the result is a film that is more intelligent and more progressive than any of the films that used to haunt late-night cable TV during my adolescence.

The film begins with a pair of lovers rushing into a hotel in 1930s' Paris. As the two are cavorting on the bed, the woman's husband breaks into the room and shoots them both dead before turning the gun on himself. "Damn," says the private detective, knowing that he is now not likely to be paid for tracking them down. The scene then switches to a notary's office where a stern and incredibly rude man is informed that he is now the guardian of young Sylvie, the daughter of the dead married couple. Far too busy with his housekeeper-doxies to raise a teenaged girl, he packs her off to a strict boarding school where the girls are spanked for minor transgressions and subjected to a level of discipline that your average marine would consider a bit strict. It's actually surprising that the film does not end with Sylvie going mad and blowing her brains out like Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket (1987). However, despite these circumstances (or possibly because of them) the girls find some tenderness first with each other and then at the hand of one of the teachers, who is in fact a man in drag hiding out from the police. By the end of the film Sylvie has been transformed into a dominatrix who returns home and starts to dominate her guardian, effectively turning the tables on the man who once made her so miserable.

So just to recap: that's young teenaged girls being spanked until they become lesbians, male criminals posing as teachers in order to play sexual games with their students, and a happy ending that suggests that actually being sexually molested was probably a good thing for Sylvie as it allowed her to grow up into a mature and confident woman in charge of her own life. Clearly, The Daily Mail would absolutely adore this film. Throw in some shit munching and you'd have a recipe for a lesbian version of Salò.

While Education Anglaise nicely illustrates the difference that 25 years can make in terms of what constitutes acceptable material for sexual fantasies (a problem that also affected the recent catastrophic remake of St Trinian's), it is still a really quite decent piece of erotica. The film is nice to look at. It is well shot on proper sets and the actresses are all naturally attractive women that are all completely free of the tons of slap that many porn actresses rely upon. Furthermore, despite the film dealing with bondage and discipline, most of the actual S&M stuff is suggested rather than shown and the film is permeated with an air of illicit, naughty erotic fun that is really quite enjoyable.

The acting is also really quite decent once you move away from the hideous blend of transatlantic and Euro-trash that is the English dub. The French soundtrack, by contrast, has some nice performances that really bring out the film's occasional lapses into politics as director Roy goes out of his way to attack not only the hypocrisy of the middle classes but also the morals of the church and government. Indeed, Education Anglaise is not just a series of lesbian scenes held together by a thin veneer of plot. You can really sense that Roy is trying to make a point about the link between sexual emancipation and women taking charge of their own lives.

In short, Education Anglaise is exactly what you want from a piece of softcore pornography. It is well shot, well written, filled with attractive people cavorting and it even has some jokes and a bit of politics. It's socially more dubious aspects merely serve to place it in the grand old tradition of exploitation films such as I Spit On Your Grave that make progressive points despite being full of politically incorrect imagery.
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