The film as well as the play makes an attempt to implicitly suggest to the audience, the real meaning and purpose of education. The fact that Rita graduates with ease in the end is secondary to her broader achievements as a person. Through the liberal education she receives in the Open University, she is empowered and emboldened as a woman to take affairs of her life into her own hands. Toward the end of the film, she is shown as a more mature, more assertive and a more self-confident woman, which is a direct result of the liberal education and the effective tutorship that she receives from Dr. Frank Bryant. While her working class attitude toward certain issues and situations do not disappear overnight, she does acquire refinement and a hint of sophistication in her demeanour. In a broader sense, the erosion of the traditional working class which 1960s realism began to map reached its climax in films of the 1980s such as Educating Rita (1983), Letter to Brezhnev (1985), Business as Usual, where there is virtually no representation of community as such and very few images of collective action. As in the earlier working-class films, “it is the experience of the north which is privileged. In particular, the city ofLiverpool–a leading seaport whose wealth was traditionally based on the export of textiles fromLancashire andYorkshire–provided the setting for a number of working-class films of the period. (McCreadie, 1990)
In a clever juxtaposition of class attitudes toward academia, the disillusioned and depressed Professor Bryant makes a remarkable suggestion when a student complains of his indifference. He says, “Look, the sun is shining, and you’re young. What are you doing in here? Why don’t you all go out and do something? Why don’t you go and make love–or something?” (Hill, 1999) Such an advice completely belies the intellectual and the scholar in Professor Bryant. If anything, the advice is more in tune with working class sensibilities regarding life and happiness. This juxtaposition of class attitude is further illustrated by the following passage,
”Frank Bryant is a disenchanted intellectual who has no real use anymore for literature, culture, or the life of the mind. Introducing working people in particular to the world of higher education seems utterly pointless to him. When he finds himself assigned as the primary tutor for Rita he remarks to a fellow-instructor: “Why a grown adult wants to come to this place after putting in a hard day’s work is totally beyond me.” He himself would much rather go to a pub than spend the evening instructing some disadvantaged student.” (Western Mail, 2006)
Rita’s vivacious and charming personality is one of the highlights of the film. The chemistry between the two lead protagonists arises from their complimentary personalities. Dr. Bryant, instead of assuming an air of sobriety fitting an academic, displays a ready wit and an irreverent attitude. When Rita first approaches Dr. Bryant, she is mildly intimidated by his intellectual aura. But, Dr. Bryant puts Rita’s apprehensions at ease by suggesting to her that “I am afraid, Rita, that you will find that there is much less to me than meets the eye.” To which Rita replies: “See, y’ can say dead clever things like that, can’t y? I wish I could talk like that. It’s brilliant.” While Dr. Bryant was initially reluctant to take up Rita as his pupil, her adoration of him eventually changes his heart. To her credit, Rita gives a persuasive answer, when asked of her sudden need to get an education: “I’ve been realizin’ for ages that I was, y’ know, slightly out of step. I’m twenty-six. I should have had a baby by now; everyone expects it. I’m sure me husband thinks I’m sterile. He was moanin’ all the time, y’ know, ‘Come off the pill, let’s have a baby.’ I told him I’d come off it, just to shut him up. But I’m still on it. See, I don’t wanna baby yet. I wanna discover myself first. Do you understand that?” (Hill, 1999) But, as she acquires the tools of literary criticism she begins to lose the directness of speech and originality of response which had defined her earlier. To complicate matters further, her flat-mate Trish (played by Maureen Lipman), whom Rita adores for her apparent “sophistication and cultural capital (as well as her independence), despairingly attempts suicide; her tutor Frank is not only an alcoholic but inhabits a middleclass world of sexual infidelities and hypocrisy that appears no less shallow than the one she is leaving. This refusal to offer a simple endorsement of the assimilation of middle-class values by the working class does, however, place Rita in an ambivalent position at the film’s end” (Erskine, et. al, 2000).