Notes On A Scandal

 
Directed by: Richard Eyre
Written by:Patrick Marber
Starring: Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Bill Nighy, Andrew Simpson
Released: February 15, 2007
Grade: A

Barbara Covett (Dench) is an elderly teacher at a middle-class English school.  You get the impression that she has grown bitter with age.  She doesn’t care if the children like her and she doesn’t respect the other teachers.  Barbara’s cynical attitude has many believing that her retirement is well overdue.

Having never married, Barbara lives in a small apartment with her aging cat.  With seemingly no close friends, she confides everything in her many diaries.  Each evening, Barbara writes about her daily events and inner-most thoughts.  It’s a peculiar routine which she has followed for many years.

As a new school year begins, a young teacher arrives at the school.  Her name is Sheba Hart (Blanchett) and her vibrant personality endears her to both teachers and students.  At first, Barbara is jealous of Sheba’s looks and popularity.  She keeps her distance and only observes Sheba from afar.

Barbara’s envy soon becomes an obsession.  Wanting to be a part of Sheba’s life, Barbara subtly strikes up a friendship.  It begins with light-hearted chats in the corridor and coffee after school.  Not long after, Sheba is inviting Barbara into her home so that she can meet her husband (Nighy) and two children.  The two are becoming close.

If I’m painting the right picture, you should be getting the sense that Barbara Covett is a very creepy person.  It’s hard to imagine Judi Dench playing the part but having now seen the film, I can declare that she is incredible.  The role requires two completely opposite personalities.  When we see Dench on screen, she comes across as sincere.  Yet when we hear her thoughts (through narration), we get a sense of how vicious she can be.  Some of her diary entries are shocking but will leave you in stiches.

The balance of their friendship changes as a result of an unexpected event.  Barbara spies Sheba having an affair with a 15-year-old student named Steven Connolly (Simpson).  Realising that she “could gain everything by doing nothing”, Barbara seizes the upper-hand.  She promises not to tell knowing that this secret will bring them even closer together.  Barbara now has Sheba’s life in her hands.

Notes On A Scandal is a very unnerving motion picture which has been written by Patrick Marber (Closer) and directed by Richard Eyre (Iris).  Marber has earned an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay.  He has smartly adapted Zoe Heller’s 2003 novel into a film which runs for just 92 minutes.  This may sound short for a thriller/drama but it’s an ideal length – there’s no time to be bored.

Also receiving deserved Oscar nominations are stars Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett.  Their two performances, combined with Philip Glass’s loud film score, are critical in creating the film’s intimidating atmosphere.

A few plot developments left me scratching my head but this is still a powerful film which tells a great story.  Let me use my own influence over you and suggest that you see it.