Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Drama Notes on a Scandal

Notes on a Scandal

Richard Eyre’s Notes on a Scandal is a torn from the tabloids potboiler that mesmerizes every step of the way. The content of Notes on a Scandal is not based on a true story per se, but the material is familiar enough for viewers to understand and relate it back to stories from the past few years. Written by Closer writer, Patrick Marber (adapted from the novel by Zoe Heller), Notes on a Scandal is witty and brutally frank with its dialogue, just as Marber’s previous film was. It also helps that Notes on a Scandal features two of the year’s best performances by two incomparable actresses who are among the best working today.

Judi Dench stars as Barbara Covett, a veteran teacher at an English prep school. She has been a part of the History department for several years, and is a very devoted teacher. Despite this, her fellow faculty members never really seem to notice her. To them she is just Barbara, the teacher who has seniority over them. Barbara’s daily routine is always the same, and usually involves her being alone. Barbara is lonely, but seems to be content with her life. She is an elderly woman who is set in her ways and does not expect anything to change that.

It is not until Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) becomes a member of the school’s faculty. Barbara begins to notice that the faculty seems to be so infatuated with Sheba. Barbara first interacts with Sheba when she helps her break up a fight during school. Sheba is grateful to Barbara for her help, and ends up inviting her to lunch. Soon a friendship between Barbara and Sheba begins. They begin to spend a lot of time together; lunch at school, Sheba invites Barbara to her home to meet her husband (Bill Nighy) and two children. Each time Sheba and Barbara just get closer and closer to one another.

One night at a school play, Sheba was supposed to meet Barbara. When Sheba becomes more and more late to meet Barbara, she wonders off to find her. To Barbara’s unexpected surprise, she discovers Sheba engaging in an illicit affair with a fifteen year old student named Stephen Connolly (Andrew Simpson). Barbara is shocked and disturbed by what she has just seen. As Sheba’s new friend, she knows that she needs to help Sheba end the affair. What ensues is a twisted game of blackmail, in order for Barbara to ensure that her friendship with Sheba remains.

Notes on a Scandal is truly a brilliant film. Judi Dench’s performance as Barbara is chilling and captivating. Her performance is incredibly nuanced, encompassing a wide range of emotions. Cate Blanchett is equally mesmerizing as Sheba, a free spirited but ultimately wounded character. The two actresses are phenomenal together, sharing the screen for the first time (they both had supporting roles in 2001’s The Shipping News, but did not have any scenes together). Together, they create a dynamic that reminded me of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Their relationship, though innocent at first, becomes eerie with the elder being in command.

What works well with a film like Notes on a Scandal is its pacing. It is the perfect length, never dragging or overstaying its welcome. The film captures you from the opening scene, and refuses to let you go until after the shattering conclusion. There were so many times in Notes on a Scandal where it could have shifted to high melodrama, but it never does. It never goes over the top and is never too restrained, each note is hit perfectly.

At the risk of being hyperbolic, I have to say that Notes on a Scandal is pitch perfect.

Notes on a Scandal
Director: Richard Eyre
Starring: Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett
Rated: R (for sexuality)
Rating: 10\10

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