Lifelong Learning

DVD Review: Educating Rita (1983)

It’s Adult Learners’ Week this week, which is the perfect opportunity to try out something completely new. It’s not too late to get involved – tomorrow there’s a session on ‘Victorian Life Through the Lens’ and all this week we’ve had a Book Recycle going on in the Information Store! If you haven’t had a chance to get to any events this year, keep an eye out for Adult Learners’ events in the future.

Educating Rita (BOOK ZONE 822.91) is one of the best films about an adult learner ever made. Based on Willy Russell’s play, Educating Rita is about a hairdresser from Liverpool, played by Julie Walters, who decides to take an Open University course in Literature. Rita’s husband thinks she should give up her dreams of education and does everything he can to discourage her, but she’s determined. She meets Professor Frank Bryant (Michael Caine, with an impressive beard) who is openly alcoholic and has become disillusioned with teaching. He encourages her at first because he finds her straightforward way of seeing the world refreshing, but he quickly doubts whether she will be able to succeed in such a snobbish academic atmosphere with her background and social class. Rita, of course, has her own feelings about that, and it’s inspiring to watch her take control of her life, despite both her husband and Frank’s attempts to make her believe she can’t do it.

educating rita 2
Rita teaches Frank as much as he teaches her

Educating Rita is also about Rita’s realisation that the world of ‘educated’ people isn’t as perfect as she expects – she thinks that people who have been to university have a better life than she does, but she soon learns that while they have advantages and privileges, they also have the emotional problems and fears that all people have. Even Frank, who was once passionate about teaching and literature, has stopped caring whether his students succeed or fail.

Lots of learners can sympathise with Rita’s struggles to be accepted – people make assumptions about her ability to learn based on her accent and clothes, and she clearly has difficulty with the traditional way the course is taught – but she refuses to give up, and by the end she has found the place that she wants in the world. It isn’t a story of someone who takes a course and magically makes their life better, but it shows that taking a chance and doing something completely new can make a big change. You’ll be cheering Rita all the way to graduation!

If you liked this…

Try another film based on a Willy Russell play, Shirley Valentine (BOOK ZONE 822.91). Willy Russell is really good at drawing on his own working class background and struggles to make believable and sympathetic characters. Like Rita, Shirley is a working-class woman from Liverpool who feels trapped by poverty and assumptions other people make about her, who discovers herself when she takes a trip to Greece. Pauline Collins (who played Shirley in the original stage production) is brilliant, and it’s a film guaranteed to make anyone who watches it seriously consider running away to a beach somewhere.

Read the scripts for Blood BrothersStags and Hens and Our Day Out (all found in the BOOK ZONE at 822.91), some of Willy Russell’s other famous plays. Russell wrote the internationally-successful musical Blood Brothers as a school play in 1982, and is passionate about the idea that good playwrights should get the chance to show what they can do in local theatres. Considering the thriving theatre scene in Norwich and the regular competitions for new playwrights, it seems like something we should take to heart.

We have a range of great resources for adult learners at any level – if you’re ever stuck or need a bit of guidance, we have Library Officers who can point you in the right direction.

And don’t forget to check out our Adult Learners’ Week activities!


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