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Working-class hairdresser Rita (Julie Walters) enrols for an adult education course in literature at her local university, determined to expand her mind. She is assigned alcoholic lecturer Dr Frank Bryant (Michael Caine), and as Rita's horizons broaden she begins to feel stifled by her home life. Simultaneously, Frank's academic career takes a turn for the worse as his drinking increases. Caine and Walters both received Oscar nominations, as did Willy Russell's screenplay.