Seeking to complete her education, Rita (whose real name is the more mundane Susan -- she really is trying to reinvent herself) ends up in a university English lit class taught by the dissolute Dr. Frank Bryant (Caine), a drunken professor who goes through the motions with little respect for his subject matter or his students.
But lo, what light through yonder window breaks? Who's this tacky cockney who has shown up to learn about Shakespeare and all them other old gits? Frank is captivated -- and highly amused -- by this gum-snapping hairdresser. In one instance, he hands her a copy of Forster's Howards End, and she interprets the title anatomically, wondering who the hell would want to read about Howard and his bleedin' end?
Back at home, Rita's layabout husband trash talks her, and the rest of her family thinks she's simply daft. But she bravely struggles on, slowly overcoming her fear of the other students and the shame of her own ignorance. Meanwhile, Frank starts to remember what the joy of teaching feels like. The two lift each other up (although it seems Rita won't be able to solve all of Frank's profound problems), and the question arises: could this be love?
It had better not be because both are married. Rita gets a glimpse of Frank's wife when he invites her to a fancy-pants cocktail party at his home. But she's too shy and intimidated to come in and instead watches the party through the window, just like Stella Dallas observing her daughter's wedding from afar.
There is deeply felt emotion in Educating Rita, especially in a moment in a noisy pub when Rita notices her downtrodden mother softly crying as the drunken louts all around her sing some stupid pub song. Why is she crying? She tells Rita there must be better songs to sing than this, and Rita, seeing the wreck her mother has become over the years, couldn't agree more. That's what she wants: to sing a better song.
Both Walters and Caine are great, and their banter, their debates, and even their screaming matches are delights. Director Lewis Gilbert has taken a two-person play from stage to screen and cracked it open, but the core of the play -- all that great dialogue -- is still there.
Run time: 110 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 21st September 1983
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures Corporation
Production compaines: Acorn Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Fresh: 11 Rotten: 2
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Producer: Lewis Gilbert
Screenwriter: Willy Russell
Also starring: Lewis Gilbert
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