Educating Rita (1983)
When an on line celebration of Michael Caine films for his 85th birthday on March 14th, 2018 was put forth, it gave me the opportunity to go though my library of titles and watch one of his critically acclaimed roles that I had yet to see. His character here is that of an English Professor/Poet opposite Julie Walters and it scored him his third Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a career that has now spanned seven decades and counting. A special thanks to Reelweegiemidget Reviews for putting this Michael Caine fest together.
Directed by Lewis Gilbert, Caine stars as a failed poet who now passes his jaded wisdom along to students in a London university. Fittingly, he keeps a bottle of booze tucked behind a copy of The Lost Weekend on his bookshelf. A definite harbinger of things to come. Into his boring existence comes a spunky Julie Walters looking to find meaning in her life through an education. She’s in a dead end marriage working a job that offers her little in the way of self accomplishment. At 26 years of age, she’s looking for a tutor and she’s been assigned to Caine.
Michael takes an immediate liking to the younger woman who speaks her mind with more than a hint of slang in her vocabulary. No sooner is she in his office, and the two are smoking and sharing a drink. When he decides against taking her on as a student, she refuses the rejection with an, “I like yah.” and a smile. Caine’s her man. Looking at his unkempt hair and beard she calls him a geriatric hippie.
Walters isn’t the only one in a stormy relationship. Caine just doesn’t know it yet. His live in girlfriend is having an affair with one if his fellow professors. Walters begins to take up the classics of literature in her desire to appear more refined and well read. She’s low on self esteem and Caine begins to see the diamond in the rough that she really is as he attempts to coax her from her shell when around people other than himself. It’s a process that will encounter setbacks thanks to members of her own family. They’re not exactly forgiving and believe she’s wasting her time.
For his part, Caine hits the bottle a little too excessively at times resulting in drunken speeches to his students that get him in trouble with the higher ups in the faculty. He doesn’t seem to care all that much. He has a self destructive nature and his relationship with Walters is going to be one of wanting. He even references Mary Shelley and Frankenstein as a comparison. Yes Walters will outgrow Caine’s tutoring in this comedy that bends in the direction of drama before it’s all said and done.
By this time in his career, Caine was a well established leading man who for the most part heading in to 1983 had been cashing in on the disaster genre in misfires like The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure with a Brian DePalma title mixed in for good measure. Playing opposite Walters in what almost amounts to a two character movie gave him his first Oscar nod since playing opposite Olivier in Sleuth. Another two character piece. Walters was nominated for her performance here as well. The pair would lose out to Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies and Shirley MacLaine for Terms of Endearment.
This was Walters first film having come from television and the original stage play of Educating Rita. Director Gilbert had previously worked with Caine on his Oscar nominated performance in Alfie which came on the heels of Zulu and The Ipcress File. A great one-two-three punch for Caine at the time. In Caine’s autobiography, The Elephant to Hollywood he says of Educating Rita…..
“To me, Educating Rita is the most perfect performance I could give of a character who was as far away from me as you could possibly get and of all the films I have ever been in, I think it may be the one I am most proud of.”
Strong words for a man who has a very large resume consisting of some very fine films and two Oscar winning roles that still lay in his future. Mr. Caine is no stranger to Mike’s Take so here’s a look back at the film’s he’s been in I’ve featured previously.
Be sure to follow this lead through to fellow writers contributing their thoughts on the career of Michael Caine and the many films he’s chosen to appear in. The great ones (Sleuth), the good ones (Too Late The Hero) and the not so good ones……. (Jaws; The Revenge).