The play Educating Rita by Willy Russell gained great
popularity especially during the early eighties. There has also
been a movie made from it starring Julie Walters and the more
famous Michael Caine. As so often the case, the movie was more
elaborate with additional scenes, some of which were spoken of or
retold by the actors in the play. The movie also included several
actors while the play only featured two, Frank and Rita.
After having read the play and seen the movie I am struck by a
number of differences. Seemingly subtle, many small details have
a great impact on how the story can and is being perceived. The
movie offers much more background information on other characters
and events that are important to the story.
‘The Screenwriter’s Bible’ by David Trottier offers a good
insight in script writing and story structure. It deals with the
basic elements of a typical screenplay, and explains what it
actually is that an audience craves. Many of the principles can
and should be applied to any story whether a screenplay, theatric
play, novel or short story.
The play is much more predictable in the sense that a great
many things are bound not to happen on stage. In fact nothing
taking place outside Frank’s office can be seen by the audience.
All action is inevitably confined within these four walls. When
Frank invites Rita to his home for dinner in the play the
audience are not set up for suspension as to how it will turn out
since they already know that whatever happens will not take place
before them, but will be retold.
The movie is several scenes richer. Some of these scenes are
in the play retold by the actors and some of them are not there
at all. Scene three in act two begins with Frank cursing “Sod
them-no fuck them! Fuck them, eh, Rita? Neither Rita or the
audience have the first clue as to what he is referring to. As
the dialogue progresses they audience is informed that he is
upset because the students reported him since he had been very
drunk while giving his last lecture. The audience never get to
see the actual scene where this happens. The can never witness
Frank staggering and slurring in front of the class. They are not
given a fair chance to make an assessment whether they accept
Frank’s behavior and side with him, or if they think it serves
him right to be reported.
David Trottier claims “Never tell what you can show. Be as
visual as possible. Rather than two ladies at tea commenting on
the fact that Darla skydives for relaxation, show us Darla
actually jumping from a plane, or show her coming home with a
parachute and trying to stuff it into the closet.”
The fact that the audience meet with only two characters in
the play is limiting in the sense that a lot of information is
implicit or even withheld. David Trottier says “One key to making
a drama dramatic is to create a strong central character with a
powerful goal, and then provide a strong opposition character who
tries to stop the central character from achieving this goal.
This assures us of conflict. And conflict is drama.” Denny,
Rita’s husband strongly opposes her spending time on education.
He wants her to have a baby and become a house-wife and
throughout most of the play he is trying make her quit what she
is doing. Denny is definitely the opposition character. In the
play Rita tells Frank that Denny has burnt all her books, and
again the action is retold. In the movie we actually get to see
the anger and frenzy of Denny, which gives a much more clear
background and perhaps a deeper understanding of Rita’s conflict
with her husband.
Another thing that sheds more light on things is the ending of
the movie which makes for a more definite resolution. In the end
of the last scene of the play Rita says “I’m gonna take ten years
off you…” and then proceeds to cut Frank’s hair. The movie
takes us a little further. We get to see Frank’s new haircut when
he is at the airport and Rita has come to see him off. They hug
tenderly and part as friends with smiles on their faces. What is
perhaps even more important for the resolution is that Frank
actually gets on the plane to Australia. When reading the
play there is room for doubt whether he really took the plunge to
do what he said he would, or if he just went back to his life the
way it was before he met Rita.
It may of course be considered unfair to compare a theatric
play (whether read or seen) with a movie since they are two
different mediums with different possibilities and limitations.
This is however not an analysis of particular renditions or
performances. It is an overview of differences in amounts of
information provided for the audience and the different ways that
this information is conveyed and how that effects perception of
the story and the characters.
You may prefer the play or the movie Educating Rita or plays
before movies in general, or vice versa. Fact remains that there
are several details and little bits of information, important to
the story that are in the movie but are missing in the play.
Russell, Willy. Educating Rita. London: Suzy Graham-Adriani
Longman Literature 1991
Educating Rita (The movie) Directed by Lewis Gilbert, Screenplay
by Willy Russel, Columbia Pictures 1983
Trottier, David. The screenwriters bible: a complete guide to
writing, formatting, and selling your script. Silman-James Press