After watching a documentary on the Open University on BBC4 I was pleasantly surprised to see this on after, as I’d never seen it before I thought I’d stick it out. I’m currently nearing the end of an OU unit on Shakespeare (hence the adaptations I’ve reviewed) so it seemed particularly appropriate. I also had a drama teacher and family friend who was a massive fan of Willy Russell and schooled me on the benefits of having strong working class characters in your stage productions.
Michael is the perpetually sauced University lecturer, Frank, who takes on an OU student in the form of Julie Walters’ Rita. Hailing from a working class background Rita is a straight talking hairdresser who has decided that she wants to understand literature. The central relationship is the thing here and Caine and Walters are superb. It really is Willy Russell’s writing at its very best. Rita’s husband being unable to understand why she is interested in Chekhov and poetry whilst Frank’s girlfriend is conducting an affair with one of university associates. Relationships strain and fracture, Rita and Frank have to come to terms with what their problems and backgrounds really count for in the grand scheme of life and it’s appealingly warm and funny.
It isn’t an advert for the OU but it is a reminder that this is an institution that offers opportunities to everyone from every walk of life and it is an institution that I’m increasingly proud of as a British invention.