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What a novel concept - a college movie that isn't about frat parties! Since
"Educating Rita" is one of the only movies which explores the true value of
schooling, it remains close to this nerd's heart. In fact, in a rather
weird conjunction with "Rocky," it inspired me to leave my lousy office job
and get a graduate degree - to better meself, as Rita might
What are the criticisms here - too long, too stagey, silly synth music? This is not my idea of a slow movie. I like the characters enough to stick with them, even if they aren't...well...moving around much! Surely their personal conflicts are interesting enough to keep me watching, even in the absence of car chases and explosions.
Walters and Caine are likable, the message is empowering (but realistic - Rita really suffers when she tries to change her life), and, just for a change, alcoholism is treated as a serious problem. Is it too sentimental? Well, I always cry. Or at least sniffle. I think that means the movie is moving, rather than sentimental.
Enough defensiveness - this movie is lovely! Where's the American DVD release, then?
"Educating Rita", directed by Lewis Gilbert, is an overlooked gem of a
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 London 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" and "An Officer and a Gentleman".
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.
Rita White, a young Liverpool hairdresser, enrols on an Open University
course to study literature. (This is a scheme in Britain whereby adults
can study for a degree at home). In Willie Russell's original stage
play, there were only two characters, Rita and her tutor Frank Bryant.
The screenplay (also written by Russell) opens up the action to bring
in other characters, but Rita and Frank are still very much at the
They are very different. She is intelligent with a sharp wit, but with little formal schooling, whereas he is a highly qualified middle-class academic. She has not enrolled in higher education in her mid-twenties to earn more money or to get a better job, but rather because she believes in education for its own sake. She wants to study literature as a means of self-realisation and as a way of getting a wider perspective on the world. As she puts it, she "wants to sing a better song". In doing so, however, she comes into conflict with her working-class family, who have no sympathy with her intellectual aspirations, and her cheerfully Philistine husband Denny, whose only desire is to start raising a family.
The irony of the film is that Frank possesses what Rita most earnestly desires- learning and culture- but does not appreciate it. In his youth, when he was a published poet, he doubtless shared her ideals, but now in middle age he is a bored, cynical alcoholic. He gave up writing poetry after the breakdown of his marriage and his relationship with his girlfriend Julia is also collapsing. (She is having an affair with one of his colleagues). He turns up drunk to lectures and mocks his students and the university authorities. Although he still earns a living from teaching literature, he has lost his enthusiasm for the subject.
Despite their differences, Rita and Frank become friends, probably because he retains just enough idealism to be touched by her naive enthusiasm. This comes across in the scene where she rushes to tell him of her excitement at seeing a production of "Macbeth" or the one where he introduces her to Blake. Initially Rita has more enthusiasm for the subject than understanding, but she makes good progress, and is eventually able to discuss literature on equal terms with Frank's college students. She becomes a waitress, which gives her more time to study. Her appearance changes; originally a bleached blonde in mini-skirt and high heels she returns to her natural brunette looks and dresses more conservatively. She reverts to her real name, Susan, abandoning "Rita" which she adopted in honour of the writer Rita Mae Brown.
Frank, however, is not happy with the change in her personality. He has become disillusioned with the idea that culture is desirable, and dislikes the way in which the naive but spontaneous and amusing Rita has given way to the more analytical, intellectually aware Susan, whom he sees as pretentious. (He insists on calling her "Rita" even after she has ceased using the name). He accuses himself of being a Frankenstein who has created a monster, and her of singing not a better song, merely a different one which on her lips sounds shrill, hollow and tuneless. This, of course, causes difficulties between them. Susan's success has been achieved at considerable personal cost because her marriage to Denny has collapsed- he burnt her course-books in a fit of rage after discovering that she was taking the Pill in order to delay having children- and she has become estranged from her family, who sided with Denny over the divorce.
If this had been a Hollywood production, it would doubtless have been made as a traditional rom-com, with a happy ending as Frank and Susan fall in love. What we actually have is a film of ideas, with a much more ambiguous ending. The central question is "What is the value of culture and education?" Should one value these things, or question their value as Frank does? Although some reviewers have sympathised with Frank, my sympathies are with Susan; his belittling of her aspirations seems patronising, and there is some justice in her accusations that he liked her better in the early days of their relationship because he was amused by her ignorance and naivety. His apparent disillusionment with his own achievements may reflect not humility but rather a deeper arrogance- the arrogance of the man who mistakes his own cynical nihilism for a higher wisdom.
If that analysis of the film makes it seem very serious, it is not- it is often very funny with some wonderful lines delivered in two great performances by Julie Waters and Michael Caine. (There is also a brilliant, and very memorable, synthesiser score from David Hentschel).
I did not like the sub-plot involving Susan's flatmate Trish, a suicidally depressed culture-vulture, played by Maureen Lipman as an exaggerated caricature. ("Wouldn't you just die without Maaahler?") I also felt an opportunity was lost by filming in Dublin rather than Liverpool. Doubtless the Irish authorities offered a better financial deal, but it meant that the film lacks the authentic sense of place which marks so many of the best British films.
Those reservations apart, however, I loved the film. Its combination of wit, great dialogue, warmth and intellectual depth made it, in my view, easily the best film of 1983. Unfortunately, its chances of winning an Oscar were sabotaged by the fact that the British film industry was going through a brief but brilliant revival in the early eighties and British films- "Chariots of Fire" and "Gandhi"- had achieved the unprecedented feat of winning "Best Picture" in two successive years. A British hat-trick would have been a hurt to American national pride too serious to bear, so "Best Picture" went instead to that horrible tear-jerker "Terms of Endearment". 9/10
What delights me most about this movie is that in early 2006 it finally
came out on DVD. There is a minor glitch in the establishing scene at
the beginning, but to see Rita once again in widescreen is almost like
seeing it for the very first time.
Educating Rita is one of many re-tellings of Shaw's Pygmalion, itself based on a Greek myth, so the story is nothing new. Rita, as so many great British films, is based on a play, in this case by Willie Russell, who also collaborated with director Lewis Gilbert, who, in addition to directing several Bond features, also directed Michael Caine in his Oscar nominated title role in Alfie, on the delightful Shirley Valentine, cast in a similar vein. It would be easy to think of Rita as My Fair Lady without the Marne Nixon voice overs, but that would be, as a classmate of Rita's puts it, facile.
The combination of Michale Caine and Julie Walters is pure magic. Unlike Dudley Moore's lovable drunk, Caine's Frank Bryant is a drunk that is difficult to love, which makes him far more interesting. He wallows, not in self pity, which would be disgusting, but in the infinitely sadder depths of self acceptance and resignation to shortcomings. He is a failed drunken poet who has lost the capacity to feel his own life.
Enter Rita, a hairdresser who wants to learn literary criticism, but more importantly, learn a way out of a life that she feels all too well. From his jaundiced perspective, Frank fears that educating Rita would transform her into just another one of the lifeless women that litter his life, but Rita will not be denied. Gradually, through voracious consumption of the Canon of Western Literature, Rita learns what she believes to be a better song to sing.
But it's not that simple. Rita finds that people, even educated people, in the end, have only themselves to cling to, and Shaw, Blake, Ibsen and Chekov may help fill up the empty moments, but they can't take away the emptiness itself. What does Rita want? Frank? A baby? Her ex-husband? No. What Rita wants is choices, and the freedom to choose among them for herself, and getting there is warm and moving drama that elevates Educating Rita among the absolute best of its era and genre.
David Hentschel's synthesized soundtrack is absolutely wonderful. It is by now so obviously from another era that it allows you to be drawn even more into the film, giving it a more timeless than dated feel. The supporting cast is wonderful, including Michael Williams, who, aside from being Mr. Judi Densch for the last thirty years of his life, also received a Papal knighthood, and classically renowned actress Maureen Lipman who was later awarded a C.B.E. for her work in British theatre.
Ultimately, however, it is the sheer magic of Caine and Walters, no less so than with Harrison and Hepburn in My Fair Lady, that gives Rita the boundless charm, wit, and passion that have made it one of my favorite films of all time.
I was introduced to this movie when I was 5 and though I had no idea about the issues being dealt with I was mesmerized. As an American child I was fascinated by the "ultra-odd" culture and cars and streets and language and I loved every second of it. I think I've judged every film since by this one which would explain why I've never really enjoyed the "Hollywood happy ending". I think my favorite line is when Rita says, "It's fun, tragedy, isn't it?". AMEN. I rediscovered it in college and understood that Rita's journey for education came full circle, without convenient resolution, and I can completely relate. Great acting, great directing, truly a human drama ... I'd long for a sequel if sequel's weren't so damn awful. Brava Julie!
Michael Caine and TV favourite Julie Walters shine wonderfully in this
film, which tells the story of 26-year-old Rita (Walters) wanting to
discover herself by attending the Open University, where alcohol
dependant Dr. Frank Bryant (Caine) is a teacher.
The movie follows these two main characters change and reevaluate their lives for the better through each other. Caine and Walters' chemistry is simply divine, and Maureen Lipman also makes an appearance as over the top and eccentric Trish, who on the outside, is this confident, bubbly woman, but on the inside is hurting badly because of her fears of being alone.
Both Caine and Walters won Best Actor and Best Actress awards for their performances (at the BAFTAs), and the movie itself won Best Film in 1984, and one look at Educating Rita tells you why. It's a film that's simply full of warmth and charm.
A strong British film and the perfect debut for the now legendary Julie Walters.
Whatever its faults and flaws might be, I've never been able - or wanted to - get 'Educating Rita' out of my head. What makes it so memorable, such a touchstone? Is it Julie Walters's expressive face? Is it Michael Caine's professor being chivvied from his sodden rut by the pixilated yet determined Rita? Is it the wit and good humor and Rational-enquiry-and-argument-as-drama of the screenplay? Is it the dated electronic score that somehow dates the film but not its cerebral or emotional impact? Truth is I don't know what makes 'Educating Rita' so memorable for me - in my head scenes and snippets of this film just pop up and play whenever they've a mind to! - and perhaps that's what makes this film exemplary as movie magic. It deserved and deserves more viewers - whether or not they'll like isn't important: as Rita/Susan says, she now has "choices" - and in my head when its scenes play I can't help giving it unending applause.
Having cast Michael Caine in "Alfie" some years earlier, director Lewis
Gilbert reunited with him for the equally splendid "Educating Rita".
Caine plays drunken, burned-out literature teacher Frank Bryant. Frank
seems just about at the end of his rope when he meets hairdresser Rita
(Julie Walters), who wants to continue her education. In the process,
they both learn some things from each other.
This may sound like a cliché, but it's not here. They never let the movie turn into a sugary mess; they keep it strong from beginning to end. Michael Caine reaffirmed himself as possibly the Union Jack's most dependable actor of the post-war period, and Julie Walters jump-started a formidable career that would include "Billy Elliot" and the "Harry Potter" movies. Lewis Gilbert went on to direct "Shirley Valentine", another movie that everyone should see.
This wonderfully engaging and thought provoking movie far surpassed my
expectations. It's an unusual variation on the old teacher / student
story but with a mature twist that asks the viewer the question... Just
which one of this pair is doing the teaching here, and exactly what is
Dr. Frank Bryant is an older, jaded, alcoholic college English professor. He's weary of the snobbish academic world, which he mocks with contempt, and weary of dissecting meaning out of literature for the pretentious but unenthusiastic students in his classes. He's assigned to tutor Rita, a feisty, uneducated Liverpool hairdresser / housewife in her mid 20's, who has enrolled in a college class to improve her language skills and also really to develop her mind. Frank finds Rita literally a breath of fresh air, chuckling at her amusing definition of the word 'assonance' and uncharacteristically moved by her candor, her respect for education, her bubbling eagerness to learn and develop. Frank actually prefers that she remain exactly as she is, fearing she'll come to resemble the pompous snobs to which he's grown all too accustomed, walking the halls of academia all around him.
Both teacher and student here already have 'significant others'. Frank is romantically involved with another teacher, Julia, who is carrying on an affair literally under his nose, so his personal life is in equivalent shambles to his professional situation. Rita is married to the uneducated, working class Denny, who's eager to start a family. She is secretly taking birth control pills, wanting to explore her own and life's possibilities before having children. Obviously conflict emerges here between this couple, with Denny actually quite a sympathetic character. He's not the villain of the piece at all (from my viewpoint), even though he does burn Rita's books, certainly not something to applaud. He just wants the simple things of life, obviously disapproving of his wife's educational endeavors for fear she'll grow away from him.
Michael Caine, in the role he was born to play, is completely convincing as the drunken, disillusioned Frank, who cannot get through his day without a drink. Julie Walters is equally perfect as Rita...first the earlier blonde, uneducated but academically keen housewife / hairdresser, and later the sophisticated woman into which she's transformed.
The dialogue is witty, and the rich relationship that develops between Frank and Rita compelling. No sex scenes here, just discussions of literature and mainly of life. These are two memorable characters that will truly engage your concern. After some additional courses abroad, Rita undergoes an amazing Pygmalion style metamorphosis in admittedly, as some have criticized, a rather unbelievably short time. She is transformed from the original naive, uneducated, working class housewife to a sophisticated literary critic...though her core, in my opinion, remains fundamentally unchanged.
As for the ending, I won't give it away. Will a May December romance emerge from all this tutelage as with that other Pygmalion pair, Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, of My Fair Lady fame? Or will these two ultimately go their separate ways, each altered forever by the other's influence? Personally, the moving, emotional ending left me feeling satisfied that the screenwriters had done their job right. Don't miss this sparkling and intelligent movie which casts attitudes toward education in such a compelling light.
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