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Educating Rita (1983)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Frank Bryant is a Professor of English Literature at an esteemed university. A middle-aged alcoholic, he has lost both his passion for the subject and his respect of his students. Rita is a full-time hairdresser who enrols with the Open University and is assigned Frank as her tutor. On their first meeting, Frank is bemused by Rita and admires her vitality and lack of pretension. However, he says he is unwilling to give lessons in the evenings, as the course requires. Rita stands her ground and says she will return the next week for her first tutorial. That evening, Frank returns home to his girlfriend (and colleague) Julia, who has organised dinner with their friends Elaine and Brian. Julia and Brian are doing their best to conceal their affair from Frank and Elaine.

In their first tutorial, Rita and Frank discuss E.M. Forster. Frank criticises Rita's first essay, saying she needs more discipline as a writer. Rita is more interested in talking about Frank's private life and learns that he is married but that his wife left him. Frank also reveals that he used to write poetry but stopped when his marriage fell apart. Rita goes home to her husband Denny, who is knocking through a wall in their house. He wants to go to the pub but Rita says she has an essay to write. They have an argument about when Rita is going to get pregnant.

At their next tutorial, Rita impresses Frank with her theory that Ibsen's Peer Gynt could make a powerful radio play. That night, Denny discovers that Rita is secretly still on the pill; she explains that she doesn't want a baby just yet. Denny is furious and throws her essay and college books onto a bonfire in the backyard. Rita relates these events to Frank at her next tutorial and explains how much she has changed since she started going out with Denny.

When Rita sees a production of Macbeth, she is overwhelmed and rushes to see Frank. She interrupts a seminar, and Frank asks her to join the lesson. He also invites her and Denny to a dinner party at his house. Denny refuses to go and Rita arrives at Frank's house alone. However, she doesn't have the courage to ring the doorbell. She goes to her local pub instead, where Denny is drinking with her family and friends. When they next meet, Frank reproaches Rita for not coming and she apologises, saying she feels out of place both at home and at university.

Soon afterwards, Rita's younger sister gets married. At the wedding, Rita's father complains that Rita still isn't pregnant. Rita has another argument with Denny and they separate. Frank tells Rita that she has great potential but that she must adopt a more serious writing style to do well in her exams. She leaves for summer school, where she grows in self-confidence and independence. When Rita returns to university, Frank notices how much she has changed. Rita moves in with a new flatmate, Trish, and gets a job at the restaurant where Trish works.

Frank becomes depressed that he and Rita have grown apart. He arrives drunk at a lecture and falls off the stage. Rita urges him to sort his life out. Frank hands her a file of his own poems and asks her for a critique of them. Julia tells Frank that she's leaving him for Brian. Rita visits Frank and praises his poetry but he dismisses both his poems and Rita as pretentious. Returning home, Rita finds that Trish has taken an overdose. She accompanies her to the hospital, where Trish recovers. The following morning, Rita must sit her exams.

In the meantime, Frank causes a drunken disturbance on the campus. He is asked to leave the university. He plans to teach in Australia for two years and invites Rita to accompany him, but she declines. At the airport, he hands Rita her exam results. She has passed with distinction. They embrace and Frank leaves to catch his plane, alone.