When twenty seven year old working class hairdresser Rita wants more out of her life she signs up for a literature course through open university and is tutored by Dr. Frank Bryant who is having his own issues with his upper-class life and has become an alcoholic in the process to try and cope with everything. They might have just found each other at the right time.
Wanting to better herself and have more of a meaning to her life Susan who announced changing her name to Rita due to the book she had been reading. This was something that engaged Frank’s attention immediately. Even if he did try and get her to have a different tutor. Her enthusiasm to learn was extremely infectious and that instantly makes you fall in love with the character.
At 27 she does not want to have a child yet despite being married for six years already, something that her father likes to constantly remind her and she even hides being on the pill from her husband. Considering this film is from the early 1980s and only four years before I was born I actually thought this attitude towards having a family was quite shocking. I seriously did not realise it was still very much like that in the 80s and her husband Denny’s reaction to finding out about the pill to rip and burn her books was truly heartbreaking.
At least she was strong enough to fight for what she wanted and that meant studying a lot harder and leaving her hairdressing job and working as a waitress. I found all of these parts very inspiring and a constant reminder that you can always change your life at any age. You are never too old to better yourself and I feel watching this in the same year that I have decided to study again and go for my Masters. So watching this film made me feel even better about that decision.
Frank Bryant was also struggling with his life but in a different way to Rita. He turned to drink to try and forget his worries. This would become a big issue though when he would turn up to lectures drunk! After a warning you thought he was about to change everything but that was not really going to happen. He needed a lot more help than he was going to be given, which in turn was rather sad. His loveless marriage with Julia and how that comes to an abrupt ending.
The relationship built between the pair really was a joy to watch unfold, nothing sexual though even if you actually feel like that could have happened. It was a deeper and more meaningful relationship than just that. Like the moment she rushes to see him interrupting a lecture he was currently doing to tell him about her first Shakespeare stage experience, when he thought something more drastic had happened. But I felt that moment was so pure and lovely followed by one of my favourite lines “she’ll look like a friggin’ muppet” when taking about the client she had left in the hairdressers.
Outstanding that this was the theatrical film debut of Julie Walters, she was just so perfect bringing this role to screen. A role she had previously played in the theatre production. She deserved so many plaudits and credit for everything she put into it and more! Gaining an Oscar nomination in the process and just quite frankly being a joy to watch from start to finish.
I think this is my personal favourite Michael Caine performance that I have seen so far, everything about his character was so well acted. The chemistry with Walters was a big high point of the film as well, something that needed to be spot on for it to work so very well. I also love that Caine regards this as his favourite of his own films, I feel that within the performance you can fully see how much he put into the role. A lovely little supporting surprise was Maureen Lipman who I had no idea was even in the film. A rather hard hitting little performance from her with a very tough message.
A truly fantastic film that I don’t think has aged too much in terms of themes, always want to push yourself and never settle for average is something I personally took from it all. Raising issues of alcoholism, divorce, adultery and suicide so it certainly packs a lot in whilst also managing to have humour to balance the tougher moments.