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UK 1983
Directed by
Lewis Gilbert
110 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Educating Rita

Lewis Gilbert’s film about a Liverpudlian hairdresser who decides to "find herself”  by enrolling in an Open University course and becomes the protegé of a boozy don and failed poet, is an unremarkable but at times likeable effort that became a surprise hit largely because of its simplistic and sentimental story of personal transformation.  

Written by Willy Russell based on his own hit play, the film opens by introducing us to Julie Walters’ Rita, who despite dressing like a tart has a burning desire to better herself, and her Professor Higgins, Michael Caine’s cynical, self-loathing academic, Dr. Frank Bryant. Of course we know that both characters are going to be very different by the time the film is over and if there are no surprises to be had in this department the journey is quite enjoyable albeit more so in the early stages than by the film’s end by which time the playful dynamic that made the film work initially has well and truly been worn to dullness.

Directed by veteran British director, Lewis Gilbert with a remarkable lack of style, what one can imagine being quite entertaining as theatre turns out to be much less effective on film.  For a start Walters, who played the part on stage and was 33 looks way too old to play a 26-27 year old and Gilbert’s recourse to soft-focus in close-ups only makes the matter worse.  Then, Rita’s transformation as she evolves from a diet of Harold Robbins to attending Chekov plays, quoting William Blake by heart and discussing the finer points of D.H. Lawrence is no more than a series of clichés. Educating Rita is more Woody Allen than George Bernard Shaw but not as witty as either.  Add to this the low production values and daggy ‘80s fashion with David Hentschel’s synthesizer score standing out in this respect and the film’s uninspired nature is unavoidably apparent, .

On the other hand Caine whom Lewis had directed in the ‘60s classic, Alfie (he also directed three Bond films) plays with a good deal of success a character quite different from his usual Cockney lad and his verbal bouts with Walters, her age notwithstanding, are often enjoyable. Neither actor however can do anything about the flatness of the story’s development, one sorely wanting some kind of development in the relationship between Frank and Rita but the film obstinately refuses to deliver.




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