Educating Rita (1983)

Rating 15
Length 1h 50
Release 16.6.1983
Director Lewis Gilbert
About Rita (Julie Walters), a married hair stylist in her 20s, wants to go back to school. She begins studying with Dr. Bryant (Michael Caine), a professor using alcohol to cope with his divorce. Despite his personal problems, Dr. Bryant helps Rita realise her academic potential. In turn, her passion for learning revitalises his love of teaching.

The Good

  • I loved it from the very start. I’m a Scouser, so of course I’m going to be drawn in to a Willy Russell story that flirts with the original source material of Pretty Women and My Fair Lady (Pygmalion). Without naming them outright, this film takes on the class divide and gender politics that I’d hope not many people would stand for today.
  • It’s pacing and time span are perfect and allow you to stay invested. The creative team have added players and places in order to expand the story from the two person play Russell wrote. There’s no point in the film where I thought “Ah, that’s where the interval would be.” Something that can be rather obvious if a play is not well adapted.
  • Michael Caine. Bloody hell, I loved and loathed the character in equal measure. There’s not many men who could bring the charm that he did to the role and it makes the difference. The alcoholism is a difficult thing to portray on film and its something that can suck the humanity out of even the best of people. So to see the character of Frank come alive at the prospect of educating Rita… or rather Rita educating him, it allows you to invest in the character. More so than My Fair Ladys Professor Higgins.
  • Now, I’ve always been a bit bias when it comes to Julie Walters; she reminds me of my mum. So to have her in a film playing a Scouser, making those ‘ays’ and ‘tarras’, was a bittersweet dream for me. Not only that, but for me, it played almost like I was watching what could have been my mother’s life.
    Julie Walter’s in this film is incredible. Anyone who has seen her in anything, will know that she is a chameleon. However, in this we see her evolve the character and bring Susan/Rita from a state of turmoil and wanting to discover herself, to being an independent and confident woman who at least knows who she is in the moment.

The Bad

  • For me, the suicide attempt of the friend came out of left field. While it was very well handled and approached, I found it difficult to watch for the reality of it and the candour in which Maureen Lipman’s Trish speaks about her sadness that she hadn’t succeeded. It was the final line in their interaction that struck home for me “When I listen to poetry and music, then I can live. You see, darling, the rest of the time it’s just me. And that’s not enough.”
    I’ll forgive you if you scoff at first. I certainly did when she opened with the music and poetry; she has been set up as rather pretentious. However, the reveal opens up and and its certainly something that transcends class; the opinion we have of ones self. It’s often rather shit and a battle to challenge.

The Ugly

  • The synthesiser music seems to clash with the story being told. It seems more like music heard in BBCs Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981) or A Clockwork Orange (1971). It’s a shame really because it doesn’t match the tone of the movie and even goes so far as to make it feel like a TV movie.
  • Where the fuck is it set? It ain’t Liverpool. It’s really frustrating to know that the source material places it there, but due to bloody politics (Tories again, the bastards), production was moved to Ireland. Can’t help but feel thrown off by not recognising any of the locations.

Final Thoughts

I’m only gutted I’ve never thought to seek this film out before today. Walters and Caine could have quite easily filmed this in the one room without any other participants and I would have been just as enchanted.
That said, give me a budget and Jodie Comer in Liverpool and I would relish a remake. Yes, we’re seeing a lot of 80s vintage in movies, but I feel like this bit of Russell grit will give people something away from the neon and pop.