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Theatre / Educating Rita

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Educating Rita is a stage comedy by British playwright Willy Russell.

A working-class girl from Liverpool wants to improve herself by studying literature. Her assigned Open University professor is Frank, an alcoholic. Rita struggles to maintain her relationships with her working class peers while trying to fit in with the educated middle-class. Rita's belief that the educated have better lives and are happier people is challenged throughout the script.

A film version was made in 1983 directed by Lewis Gilbert and starring Julie Walters, Michael Caine, and Maureen Lipman.

Tropes in Educating Rita:

  • Accent Relapse: In Trish's final scene, the posh voice she's been using slips into an Oop North accent; implying she's been faking it the whole time.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Rita laughs out loud when she reads the first question on her masters exam: "Suggest ways in which one might deal with some of the staging difficulties in a production of Ibsen's Peer Gynt", a Call-Back to her terse answer to the exact same question: "Put it on the radio."
  • Adaptation Expansion: The play is a two-hander featuring only Rita and Frank and set entirely in his study, whereas the film has a much larger cast and variety of settings, directly depicting many events which are described in dialogue in the play.
  • An Aesop: Intelligence is valuable yes, but it can also be superficial, and what one should really have is a strong personality.
  • Alcohol Hic: In the movie version, Frank lets one out when he shows up drunk to a lecture, much to the amusement of his students. It goes downhill from there.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Frank pointedly tells her that she's not "singing a better song" — she's just singing a different song, and hasn't really improved in a meaningful way yet.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • When Brian has left Elaine and is trying to persuade Julia to leave Frank, he is about to tell Frank that he has left his wife, but he loses his nerve mid-sentence and instead claims he is going to leave his publisher.
    • In the penultimate scene, Rita tells Frank to sit down, and she's going to make him ten years younger as she takes off her jacket — and starts cutting his hair.
  • Be Yourself: Reconstructed. Rita is deeply unhappy with how she is and seeks to get an education to better herself. It's shown that acting posh and pretentious can be just as empty as being lower class, and Rita ultimately finds contentment with her education but still holding onto her true personality.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Rita finally says this in her last conversation with Frank, albeit kindly.
    Rita: I'm talking! That's the problem with you — you talk too much!
  • Bittersweet Ending: Movie version: Rita separates from Frank fondly, and has a chance for a much better paying job in London.
  • Book Safe: The professor hides his whiskey behind a book.
  • Brainy Brunette: Rita changes her hair from blonde to brown presumably to evoke this trope.
  • Brick Joke: Early on in the film, Rita jokes about popping around to Frank's office with her scissors. At the end of the film, she gives him an Important Haircut.
  • Call-Back: One of Rita's early joke answers to a question about staging difficulties is "do it on the radio". The same question appears on her exam at the end, but she doesn't give that answer. Frank seems disappointed she didn't answer "do it on the radio".
  • Central Theme: To sing a better song.
  • Cerebus Retcon: Frank's alcoholism is only given a few passing mentions in the first half of the story, but it starts getting Played for Drama when he starts turning up to lectures drunk.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The light-hearted nature of the story changes suddenly when Rita arrives home to find her roommate overdosed on pills, Frank's girlfriend leaves him and his alcoholism gets even worse.
  • Children Are a Waste: Rita doesn't want to become locked into looking after a child - her husband wants her to have a child as soon as possible, and gets angry when he finds her birth control pills.
  • Contraception Deception: Rita's husband Denny wants to start a family, but she wants to wait while she finishes a degree. He already doesn't understand why she wants to do that, so she takes the pill in secret while pretending to try to conceive. When he finds her stash, he burns her books and they break up soon after.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Rita chooses not to go to Australia with Frank and they part amiably, though it's certainly left open as to whether they'll hook up later.
  • Don't Think, Feel: Rita is nervous in her final exam, and follows her professor's advice about essay writing.
  • Downer Ending: At the end, Rita is in an uncomfortable position: her education puts her above her working-class peers, but her accent and manner do not fit into the middle-class strata of society.
  • Driven to Suicide: Rita's roommate Trish overdoses but survives.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: For Rita, seeing Macbeth. Literature finally clicks for her after seeing it, then buying the book of the play.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Rita's hair is used as a clock to symbolise her Character Development:
    • When she begins her studies, it's short and bleached blonde.
    • As she starts to really get into her education, and the conflict with her family starts, it's a little longer.
    • When she leaves her husband, it's grown out past her shoulders.
    • After her summer school, she has now turned it brown.
    • As she has more conflict with Frank, it's just above the shoulders.
  • Gossipy Hens: The women around Rita are superficially seen to be these. Her roommate in the film also has varying degrees of this.
  • Hate Sink: Denny, Rita's misogynistic husband who objects to her going to university and behaves like a Spoiled Brat when he doesn't get his way. He childishly burns her books when he finds out she's on birth control and kicks her out of the house, in attempt to blackmail her into giving up university and having a child that she's not ready to have.
  • I Am Very British: A few students at the university speak like this, and it's used to show them as pretentious. Trish speaks like this too but in her final scene it's implied to be an act.
  • Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance: Rita's roommate Trish.
  • Implied Love Interest: There appears to be some attraction between Frank and Rita, but it never amounts to anything. Rita scoffs at the notion that they could be lovers, when Frank suggests that it could be why her husband is so negative about her education - Frank is not as naive on that point as Rita perhaps is.
  • Informed Ability: Subverted. We never hear Frank's poetry and we only have Rita and Trish's criticism to go on about it being good. Frank however thinks it's rubbish.
  • Intimate Haircut: At the end of the play. Also partially traumatic as Frank yells in pain during it.
  • Lower-Class Lout: Rita's husband Denny fits this trope perfectly; concerned only with going to the pub and watching TV.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Present but not entirely played straight. Rita fits lots of the Manic Pixie tropes - bubble of quirk who forces herself into a brooding man's life. Notably Frank turns her away to another tutor at first, but she insists on being taught by him and getting to know him. But then again, she's trying to improve her own life and has character growth of her own. While she attempts to fix Frank's life, it's shown that only he can do that. Though he does end the story better from having known her.
  • The Makeover: Rita gives herself one while at summer school.
  • Meaningful Echo: Rita recalls her mother saying of everyone in the pub "surely there's a better song to sing", which becomes her motto. Later on in the film, Frank calls her out saying that she's not singing a better song; just a different one.
  • Meaningful Rename: Rita's real name is Susan, but she chooses to call herself Rita when she starts her education. This is subverted when she's more comfortable with herself and goes by Susan to everyone but Frank.
  • No Ending: Frank goes off to Australia on a forced hiatus, while Rita has a world of possibilities, but hasn't chosen what she wants to do yet.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: A few of the Irish supporting cast. But this is justified, since Britain has always had a large number of Irish immigrants.
  • Not Wanting Kids Is Weird: Rita's friends and family are constantly asking her when she's going to have a baby, and treat her not wanting one as an oddity. However, Rita says she does plan on children — just not now.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: There are a few accent slippages from the Irish supporting cast.
  • Painful Rhyme: Frank gives an example of assonance, with Yates rhyming "swan" with "stone".
    Rita: It means getting the rhyme wrong.
  • Phoney Call: Whenever Frank is about to walk in on Julia and Brian in a passionate embrace, Brian picks up the phone and pretends to be calling his agent, Morgan, about his latest publishing deals. Frank either believes it or knows it's a lie but goes along with it until he catches Brian supposedly talking to Morgan after the phone has been disconnected.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The original play includes a bit more discussion of the actual books, being set entirely in Frank's office. Shifting the action to the wider world cuts some dialogue about literature and the state of the academy. The lessons on Howards End give Rita a strongly Marxist initial appraisal and a monologue about the loss of working-class culture, whereas she notably has no political identity in the film. Frank's rather inappropriate casual overtures toward Rita are dialed back, and his inability to maintain his relationship with Julia (and the complexity of having it be described past the fact from one side) is simplified by giving Julia an affair.
  • Pygmalion Plot: Subverted. It's implied that Frank falls for Rita over the course of her lessons, but also that his attraction is to her down-to-earth, innocently enthusiastic self, having been long jaded by the pretension of academia.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: After Frank's drunken escapade, the university sends him to Australia for two years; being a famed poet and having too much tenure, he can't be fired.
    Rita: Did you bugger the bursar?
    Frank: Metaphorically.
  • Rewatch Bonus: After knowing the truth about Trish, it makes much more sense why she has Mahler playing on full blast when she's interviewing a potential roommate. She wants to make herself seem cultured and impressive to hide her own working class roots.
  • Running Gag: Rita can never open the tricky lock on Frank's door. At one point she even brings an oil can.
  • Ship Tease: In the final scene, Frank and Rita hug for just a little too long, and when they unlock their embrace, the film holds on them them in a two shot. Frank moves slightly forward as if to kiss, but it doesn't happen.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: Deconstructed. Slob Rita wishes to better herself and become a Snob, but finds herself unable to fit in either situation. She ultimately finds happiness just being herself - conforming to neither label.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Rita's husband doesn't think she should be learning, and tears up her homework in a pique of anger when he finds out she's still using birth control.
  • Stepford Smiler (Type A) : Rita realized her mother was unhappy with her life and is trying not to go into a miserable relationship and do something with her life.
  • True Blue Femininity: Rita is color-coded with lots of blue throughout the film. During the penultimate scene, Frank gives her a pink dress "for an educated woman", choosing to focus on "woman" more than "educated".
  • Understatement: Rita's Character Development is such that she really doesn't care about her final exam score at the end, more concerned Frank get on the plane because it's ready to leave. Frank forces her to look at her score, and she glances at it, saying, "I passed." Frank looks at it, and says, "You passed with distinction!" Rita still is more concerned about Frank getting his butt on the plane.
  • "What Now?" Ending: A very positive example. Rita ends the film with no idea what to do next, and the beauty of it is that she now has choices. Which she didn't have at the beginning.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Rita's professor lectures her in a one-on-one session when she feels hopeless. Rita returns the favor.