Educating Rita is a the film of Willy Russell’s play, adapted by himself, about raw and breezy Liverpudlienne (Julie Walters) who wants to better herself and the whisky prone English Literature don (Michael Caine) who teaches her and is on the receiving end of her wayward I.Q. and ambitions.
“I’m tryin’ to deesoover mee-sairif” she cheerfully shrills at him, as Caine nods politely and tries to retreat into a large bottle of White Horse. And later, after he shows her his critical acumen, she shows him hers. “Friggin’ Forster, he gets on my tits.” Caine gamely tries to draw her out. “Do you know Yeats?” “The wine lodge?” And after many a seminar sighs the don.
At first, Russell and director Lewsi Gilbert look as if they’re tumbling – with a long and agonized “Yeoww” – into the deepest-fathomed fatuities of the “opening out” school of play adaption. Filmic aeration here takes the form of M. Caine waddling across the campus quadrangle every two minutes or so saying “Good Morning” to people.
But soon the scenic mobility takes on more point and punch: with tiffs and tantrums in Rita’s house shared with male chauvinist hubby Denny (Malcolm Douglas), or with Professor Caine grappling stoically with a lecturn during a drunken lecture.
The two main performances are a joy. Miss Walters strangles the English language under a puffball of blonde hair and between gobstopper cheeks. Her bustling tight-skirted walk, tippling high heels, brilliantly suggests an idée fixe in perpetual motion. Michael Caine wears an ill-kempt beard that looks as if he’s being attacked by a small flying sheep, and his seedy jackets are strained to rupture point by his expanding girth. Caine has the best deadpan comic timing of any straight(ish) actor on the screen today. And it takes nerve of a high order for a movie star to combine this much underplaying without looking like something the cat would have left outside.
Educating Rita coagulates into sentimentality near the close, with Mr Caine falling for Miss Walters even as he knows he’s “liberating” her into the arms of her young campus copeers. But until then it’s full of wit, wisdom and a funny-woebegone humanity.
A superb and deeply touching movie
People who have experienced the mid-life crisis will be at home with this movie, as 26 year old hairdresser, Rita (Julie Walters), is pressurised into settling down with boyfriend Denny. Not only is this an un-needed pressure, but her father is plaguing her about when she is going to have children, but all Rita wants to do is find herself and take up something new. Her common touch and wonderful idiosyncrasies bring a breath of fresh air to snotty high class life, but when she goes to Dr. Frank Bryant (Michael Caine) to not only improve her lexicon, but to improve her image she begins a journey of blood and tears. Frank is assigned to tutor her, and from the start their personalities resonate the human touch.
Dr. Frank Bryant's marriage has gone down the pan, and his current girlfriend is playing away. On top of this he has hit the bottle and can only get through the day of teaching the young toffs, with a blend of his lecturing skills and the drink. He is jaded, he is tired of the same lecture routines, and he cannot understand why these students want to discuss the finer points of Blake. But Rita is new and fresh, initially Rita doesn't possess the skills required to write analytical essays; but she is different, she is vibrant, she is funny and she is unbelievably up front. As their relationship blossoms and Rita starts to find herself, she becomes increasingly drawn to the student way of life, and when Franks life is enriched because of her presence and her willingness to learn he sends her to a summer camp, to be educated at a greater level.
However, Rita's return with a change of character surprises Frank, and soon they drift away from their zany, affectionate meetings. Educating Rita is funny, expressive, sentimental, poignant and sad, as Frank must come to terms with the young bird fleeing the nest, whilst Rita begins to realize what she is becoming. With one thing gained, many other things are lost, and with Frank's increasing drinking problem because of Rita's character change, the two are headed for disaster. Both Caine and Walters give amazingly touching performances, and throughout I felt myself urging them to each other, only to know deep down that the age gap is just too much. Not many films make the audience care enough about relationships and circumstances, but this brilliant movie not only gets the audience committed to their plight, but also feels the full range of emotions.
When Rita gives her own interpretation of what assonance is, Bryant finds himself chuckling away to himself and realising that she is indeed right. What is especially touching is the way that Bryant wants Rita to stay as she is, because life has so little characters left for him. What she wants to become is everything that Bryant wants to forget, and there begins a sentimental tug of war. In between the funny moments, and plot directions is the feeling that life has more to offer than just being able to talk fluently about past authors, something which Bryant is driven to distraction over. But the movie nevertheless doesn't miss a moment to entertain and take the characters to our hearts, ensuring that Educating Rita remains a film classic.
An Excellent Character Study
"Educating Rita", directed by Lewis Gilbert, is an overlooked gem of a film. I first saw this film in 1984, a year after it's release, and since have championed it as one of the best romances ever made.
Based on a London stage play, "Educating Rita" is the story of a twenty seven year old middle class hairdresser/housewife (Julie Walters, in an excellent performance) who, before having children, would like very much to learn about herself. Much to the annoyance of her husband, she enrolls in an "open university" literature course to begin her journey (open university is the British term for college night courses). Assigned as her tutor is Frank (Michael Caine, in one of his best roles), an older literature professor who suffers from low self esteem and has his own relationship problems.
Had this film been made in the machine that is Hollywood, USA, Rita and Frank would have slept together within two scenes of meeting each other (and it would have been graphic, of course), then realized they were in love, followed by the inevitable obstacle to their relationship (probably a misunderstanding or rival for affections), finally ending up with them overcoming all. Every character and plot point would have been telegraphed well in advance. "Educating Rita" does none of this. There are no graphic sex scenes (or any sex scenes for that matter), no grand pronouncements of love, no cliche cliffhangers or deaths in icy seas. Instead, the story portrays Rita and Frank in a very realistic, human manner. As the story unfolds, we watch as they grow as individuals which causes their friendship to become richer. There are turns to the plot which are unexpected. I will not divulge what the end result is, as it is very unconventional and is sure to bring a lump to the throat of any romantic.
In all, "Educating Rita" is a very overlooked excellent character study framed by a wonderful story. When in the mood to watch a romantic film or two, forget "Titanic" and rent "Educating Rita".
This play is perhaps the most warming and enthralling I have read in a long time: with the film meeting the standards set by Russell in the play.
The chemistry between Caine and Walters is indeed magnificent to watch, capturing all of the greatest aspects of the play in a profound and thoughtful manner. Following Rita through her journey from a uneducated, naive and insecure character to a developed, matured and refined woman. Throughout her journey we are given an insight into both what she gains and loses, watching her marriage deteriorate and her maturing into a well rounded student.