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. References: Primary source: Russell, Willy. Educating Rita. London: Suzy Graham-Adriani Longman Literature 1991 Secondary sources: 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 1995