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The Dame vs. The Cate Warning: Spoilers
Instead of becoming the tawdry, salacious affair it could've easily been, two masterful and textured performances from two of our greatest actresses catapult "Notes on a Scandal" to the echelon of art-house entertainment. In one corner, we have Dame Judi Dench as the lonely schoolmarm and mentor. In the other corner, we have Cate Blanchett as the flighty but endearing new art teacher just begging for someone to take her under their wing. The film starts innocuously enough, with the two women becoming fast friends, with Blanchett inviting Dench into her home and family, and Dench all too eager to find a new best friend. Deliciously seasoned with spicy subtexts involving the bourgeois sense of entitlement, the bitterness of the lower middle class, the candidness of those with everything who never seem to be satisfied, the resentment of those sucked into this confidence, and of course, the psycho-sexual entrapments of all relationships, "Notes on a Scandal" is rife with everyday tragedy. The convoluted subtexts often take precedence over what is being seen on screen, until Dench's voice-over entrances us and sucks us in.

In the early scenes where Dench is describing her burgeoning fascination with Blanchett, the audience shares in the allure as Dench paints beautifully the appeal of Blanchett's talents as an actress. Soon, though, the fantasy makes way for reality, and Blanchett as raw and vulnerable as she has ever been falls under the spell of a troubled 15 year-old boy with whom she begins an illicit affair. Blanchett's folly is mirrored in Dench's obsession with becoming her sole confidant.

Director Richard Eyre (who previously directed Dench in the superb "Iris") structures the film in a crisp clip. As the plot quickly goes through the motions, secrets are revealed, true natures are uncovered, and the lives of both women become tragically entangled as they unravel.

Enough can't be said about Dench's mastering of the thespian art form. She could've easily dived head first into this role and delivered something akin to Kathy Bates turn as the mad spinster in "Misery." Instead, she adds subtlety, humor, and melancholy in her perfectly balanced performance that allows you to sympathize with her character for the loneliness she feels while at the same time hating her for her opportunism and bitterness.

Likewise, Blanchett, manages to play to our sympathies, and it's easy to see why Dench, the boy in question, and Blanchett's husband (a shockingly good Bill Nighy), are completely smitten with her despite her impetuousness.

With betrayal leading to hatred and a complete breakdown of all things sacred in human connections, the climactic showdown between The Dame and The Cate is the type of goose-bump inducing acting tour de force moviegoers dream about. There's also a sense of a symbolic passing of the torch from one generation of great actresses to the next. Far from being just the highbrow version of "Single White Female," "Notes on a Scandal" entertains and provokes those willing to enjoy the psychologically complex roller coaster.
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State of the art acting by Dench, Blanchett and Nighy
fmoramar29 December 2006
What a treat to watch three of the best actors of our time in the same movie! Judy Dench is an international treasure; Cate Blanchett never looked better or created a more compelling character in any of her other movies, and I had the good fortune to discover Bill Nighy on Broadway in "The Vertical Hour" with Julianne Moore the night before I saw "Notes from a Scandal," and I now want to see everything he's done. A superlative creator of character. "Notes from a Scandal" tells us a lot about the "British" penchant for relishing "scandals" (they invented the tabloid press) and also about the odd, intersecting relationships that have become a nearly commonplace reality in the contemporary world. Both Blanchett and Dench (as Sheba and Barbara) teach at the same Islington secondary school. And both, in very different ways, embark on "inappropriate" relationships that create turmoil in their lives and the lives of their community. Judy Dench conveys the desperate loneliness of her character's life and a remarkable scene of her smoking a cigarette in a bathtub conveys the distinction between her kind of loneliness--an older, unattractive, single woman with no real connections in life--and the more endurable kinds of loneliness that many of us share. This is a gripping film that moves crisply from one scene to the next, missing only a very few beats along the way. A must see.
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Front Row at the Opera
char treuse4 January 2007
Watching the emotionally intense black comedy, "Notes on a Scandal," you, too, may feel like its main character, Barbara, who reflects in one of her many voice-overs, "The opera has begun and I have a front-row seat." Directed by Richard Eyre ("Iris," "Stage Beauty" and the exceptional TV version of "Suddenly, Last Summer" with Maggie Smith and Natasha Richardson), "Notes" bravely wades into modern-day Grand Guignol as the tension between its two female stars heads inevitably toward a showdown.

Patrick ("Closer") Marber's melodramatic screenplay cleverly makes use of Barbara's voice-overs as she scribbles in her diary and makes jaded, bitter observations about the world around her. Abundant voice-overs usually point toward shortcomings in a drama, but here they provide irony and serve to enhance the dialog.

In her juiciest role since "Mrs Brown," Judi Dench brings an element of sympathy to Barbara, a closeted, self-loathing lesbian school teacher attracted to the new art teacher, Sheba, played by Cate Blanchett. Madly hoping to wrest the heterosexual Sheba from her husband and two children, one of whom has Down Syndrome, Barbara stumbles upon Sheba's sexual dalliance with a 15-year-old student. In a Machiavellian turn, Barbara hopes to manipulate Sheba by maintaining her secret . . . with strings attached. Need I add that all does not go well?

In fact, escalating histrionic fireworks ensue. Blanchett holds her own in this emotional and physical battle royal, capping her incredible year (2006) that also included outstanding performances in "Babel" and "The Good German." As Sheba's husband, Richard, Bill Nighy also comes through with a powerhouse performance. The moody score by Philip Glass is icing on the cake.

At a tidy 92 minutes, "Notes on a Scandal" is highly concentrated and vivid. The recently announced Golden Globe nominations include Dench, Blanchett and Marber, so we can expect Oscar nods as well.
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Jarring Notes Superbly Performed
M. J Arocena26 February 2007
Judi Dench and Cate Blanchet both have played the fierce Queen Elizabeth I in their careers and here they fight for the crown in a royal match that is as entertaining as it is jarring. Two civilized women breaking into very uncivilized patterns of behavior. A highbrow story with a tabloid sensibility performed with truth and gusto. Bette Davis would have killed for Judi Dench's part at the time of Baby Jane and although there is nothing grotesque in the way Dame Judy presents us her monster, the monster herself is grotesque. She explains, in a witty and consistent voice over, what's in her mind. The center of her intentions become so appallingly clear to us that Cate Blanchet's slowness to catch up becomes exasperating. Maybe her suffocating domestic situation throws her into the arms of her absurdity. She seems a woman searching for validation without any real vocation. A teacher who doesn't believe she can teach, a mediocre wife a light weight mother. Judi Dench is relentlessly solid in her madness made of longing and fears. I left the theater with a desperate need for a double scotch on the rocks, just to take a strange taste off my mouth.
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tense twisted story
antoniotierno25 February 2007
Certainly a very stylish drama, riveting and brilliant, rising above the modern-day thrillers due to stunning performances of two very gifted actresses. It's both dramatic and funny, Judy Dench and Cate Blanchett are delicious and so talented that they turn a misanthrope cat and mouse game into a politically correct entertaining account. This strong emotional battle is not only something about teacher-student sex, it's also an obsessing blackmail. Without exaggerating it could be deemed "memorable", as revelations abound, tempers flare all the time and every single confidence is shared. Never boring and deep.
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The Real, As Opposed to the Convenient
jzappa15 January 2007
This is a story told through the proper subjective medium, film, with such painful, cynical candor for how Barbara has spent a life disabusing herself of any rose-tinted notion of life or people. The price? Absolute, utter loneliness. The dynamic human images we see our narrated by the day-by-day items in the diary she zealously keeps as a sanctuary, and an affirmation. The movie fixes on acts of indiscretion and disloyalty, entailing not just our scathingly wise narrator and her new teaching colleague Sheba, but Sheba's husband, the headmaster, a teacher infatuated with Sheba, and a 15-year-old student. Each believes their reasons are sincere, but are all entrenched in variations of self-deception. As Barbara says, in one of the most tellingly human things I've ever heard in a movie, "It takes courage to recognize the real as opposed to the convenient."

Dench and Blanchett, as Barbara and Sheba, share not only a gift for deep behavioral detail but a skill at withholding or telegraphing charm and beauty, as required. This may be one of the numerous reasons why they're as compelling as they are. It's definitely part of why this is some of their finest work. It's part of the drama's mechanism. Were Sheba not the breed of beauty she is, a naive, impressionable, coddled pixie, then we couldn't appreciate how intensely Barbara wants her. It's not exactly love so much as controlling, envious fixation on Sheba's stunning upper-class ease. And were Barbara not a teakettle of seclusion boiling through decades of disillusionment, we couldn't identify with how distorted the manifestation of that affection becomes.

That's the marvel of the movie: It's about the venomous influence of loneliness, viewed through a tale of two people in love. But unfortunately for both, not with one another. Sheba becomes smitten with a cute but cagey student. Played with what seems like natural hyper-confidence by Andrew Simpson, he sees an occasion in the way she looks at him. She has no clue of how defenseless she truly is. It's not only dishonest and unethical, she tells herself, it's totally ludicrous, but when he cups her face and says, "You're beautiful, Miss," she melts.

Barbara, meanwhile, fosters an obsession in her diary, relating thoughts precariously bordering on fantasy. Barbara's seclusion within the school is total, but Sheba is somebody who hasn't experienced her acidity. Barbara can smother someone with good turns and not be rejected. She helps Sheba win control of her students. "One soon learns that teaching is crowd control. We're a branch of social services." Sheba asks her to Sunday roast, where Barbara describes Sheba's family with characteristically rancorous humor. Dench's delivery of these delectably spiteful lines is an triumph in vocal meticulousness and tone that is its own prize. Even when this apparent ice queen drops minute words of vulnerability like "Is that why she hasn't returned my calls?" there's an extra intensity in how strongly we can all relate to the insecurities of her inner voice.

There are giftedly handled, extraordinarily candid scenes of rage, humiliation and disgrace, and cruel physical and emotional clashes of immense force. The teachers are somewhat caricatured, but that's because they're filtered through Barbara's misanthropic viewpoint. If it's her omniscient voice we're hearing, it's through her omniscient eyes we're seeing what she describes, and it's the figures who allow her access to their humanity who have profundity and delicacy in their depictions. A wholly earnest Dench brings to Barbara that frigid reserve that's somehow one with a despairing need for consolation and affection. Early on, Sheba is basically an alluring figurine, watched from afar. When our voyeuristic chronicler discovers Sheba's business with the student, Sheba grows immense dimension.

We start to see Sheba's own manner of advantaged lonesomeness…or just tedium. "Marriage, kids, it's wonderful," she presumingly explains, "but it doesn't give you meaning." Blanchett brilliantly uses her character's advantages to betray her. The grim lesson she's about to learn from Barbara seems belated, even valuable. People like Sheba, according to Barbara, and I'm sure you'll agree, think they know loneliness, but they know nothing of planning one's whole weekend around a laundry errand, or being so continually untouched that the inadvertent sweep of a stranger's hand ignites years of sexual longing.

What I adore about the film is this discerningly intricate moral kaleidoscope weaved in completely modern domestic terms. It's going on in your neighborhood, not just Islington. There are scandals like this every year, and we dismissively conjecture from what little we gather. The cunning concept here is that we're seeing it through the sieve of Barbara, and whose transgressions transcend contemporary know-it-all assumptions.
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Brill, Dark, Witty....and "Marvelously Judi Dench/Cate Blanchett"
screenwriter-1427 December 2006
NOTES ON A SCANDAL is a Judi Dench "triumph" of brilliant wit, pain and a satanic passion for a woman out of reach in Cate Blanchett. Her "Judas" to her supposed friend and fellow teacher is an acting performance which will land Ms. Dench right back in "Oscar country". Too bad it is in the same year as Helen Mirren's magnificent "Queen" as Dench gives a show here in NOTES ON A SCANDAL that leaves you quite breathless to the last and final scene and fade out.

Patrick Marber delivers a deliciously wicked, witty and crisply written script in NOTES, and it only enhances his reputation for giving an audience a story well developed and with characters that you can't take your eyes off on the screen. His writing in CLOSER was so brilliant and clever, but in NOTES ON A SCANDAL he hands Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett words that are zingers and with a strong blend of anger, pain and humor. Please, Patrick, gives us another film quickly! The "teacher/student" romance was well developed and the chemistry between the two actors was believable and very sexual, and one could understand the youthful passion delivered by a young man with a strong mind and body. I did at times have to listen carefully to the young actor's lines, but he delivered them like a pro.

In the weeks ahead, I anticipate a "roar from the crowd" for this very dark and witty Judi Dench performance and who knows, she may upset "The Crown" in the end come Oscar time.
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Just see the movie
dbborroughs10 February 2007
I enjoyed this movie a great deal. The acting was excellent across the board and the story about the relationship of two school teachers and what transpires between them is involving. The problem for me was that in reading the reviews for the film I found that the reviewers revealed way too much about the plot. I found this to be one of those times when it was best to know as little as possible going in since there was a chance that knowing plot points might signal later revelations. Simply put the reviewers said too much so after a certain point it became clear what was going to happen, The result was that I enjoyed the film less than I might have other wise. Take my advice ignore what people say about the film and just see it
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Rarely is a film so sublime!
Every film should aspire to be as satisfying as this one is - on every level, and there are so many layers to it all. Nothing is as it appears and the film unwinds in the form of comments and voice-overs from the many journals of the protagonist.

Judi Dench, yet again, sinks her teeth into the part of Barbara Covett, a cynical and acerbic history teacher putting in time in an inner city school.

Enter Cate Blanchett, playing Sheba Hart, the new art teacher, fragile, naive, innocent and hopeful. Or is she? Barbara quickly ensconces herself into Sheba's life, becoming confidante and friend.

And then the plot thickens and assumes the intensity of a thriller as Sheba's life starts to fall apart, secretly abetted by Barbara. The tension does not let up until the very last frame and the viewer is never quite sure where this ride is going.

Sheba and Barbara are very alike at their cores, there is a fragile 'fatal attraction' theme running through their relationship, shadowed by Sheba's impossible affair with a fifteen year old boy which is in turn shadowed by her Down's Syndrome son who is of an age with her student, and again this is shadowed by her daughter's coming of age love troubles and overall the shadow of her own marriage to a much older man, who left his wife and children for her teenage self. I found all of these themes winding again and again throughout the film. The characters are fully rounded and indeed are also shown happy in the bosoms of their individual families but with a distance portrayed as if they are never quite sure of their places within them - always a distraction and secrets.

Barbara has her shadows too and they start to trickle through and become more vocalized and by others, as the stories unfold.

Enough said without spoilers. Bill Nighy, as Sheba's husband ably enhances the two astonishing performances of the female leads.

Movie making at its finest. This is being shown in two theatres in the same complex where I saw it and both were packed. It is very heartening to see a character driven and challenging movie being so popular.

10 out of 10. Superlative, down to the music by Philip Glass.
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minor quibbles aside, this is one of the sharpest tragic-comedies this year, certainly regarding obsession and psychological mind-games
MisterWhiplash5 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Rarely have I seen Dame Judi Dench on top of her game as with Notes on a Scandal. She's usually a good show in any film she's in, but here she's perfect for the role of Barbara, who has been a professional teacher in a high school all her life, and is well respected, but can't seem to get enough of her attachments. There's a first one to a woman we won't see during the course of the film (chiefly because she put a retraining order on Barbara), and then enters in Sheba (Cate Blanchett, beautiful as ever, which may be a small part of the point), who becomes a focal point of attention for Barbara. And then when she discovers a terrible secret regarding her new 'friend'- an affair Sheba's having with one of her 15 year old students- there's a subtle form of blackmail that comes into play, and that becomes a further fantasy in her notebooks. Throughout all of this Dench never breaks from making this a totally believable, broken, but very solid woman who's gone through a life of misery only to want to seek happiness on the other side. One might almost feel sorry for her, in the end, if she wasn't such a dingbat. It might be also my favorite Dench performance I've seen to date (albeit I'm not all up on her complete catalog of work). She's not only convincing on the level of the obviousness of her character, vindictive but sweet, sensitive but cunning, and always with that underlying wit that the British have even in the most dire of circumstances, and I couldn't see anyone else playing her after a while.

But it's not just her that makes Notes on a Scandal worthwhile. The screenplay by Patrick Marber, from what must be an equally absorbing and humanistic book, is sharp and intelligent in ways that American filmmakers wish they could make mind-f***er movies like today. There's understatement here and there that undercuts some scenes, like when Sheba has to confess to Barbara after being caught with the boy the first time, a very slight tension each knows on each side. And even when things start to get worse and worse, and the truth comes out in the worst way possible (not just for Sheba, destroying her family which includes her husband played by the great Bill Nighy and her two dysfunctional children, but for Barbara as well), there's still some glimmers of dark comedy in there, which one might think would be impossible considering the dangerous pit-falls that could come with such topical, practically controversial subject matter. My favorite of this is when Sheba finds out her own darkest secret from Barbara, and inexplicably in her old 80s makeup again no less.

Not that I thought the film was without flaws- chiefly that, oddly enough, it wasn't long enough at 90 minutes (structurally it ended up working out, but considering how good the characters made the material out to be, I was surprised how quickly Marber and director Eyre got into the affair material), and Phillip Glass's musical accompaniment isn't quite fit with the rest of the material most of the time (I was wondering when Errol Morris would show up, truth be told). But I overlook these flaws mostly for the sake of how superlative everything else is done. The performances are all uniformly compelling and with equal measures of understandings in neuroses in one another, and the ending particularly leaves a chilling spell not unlike one found in the Cable Guy. It's probably the best "chick-flick" you haven't yet seen this year.
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Even better than the book
julianjessop5 January 2007
I saw this at a preview last night. It is a brilliant, absorbing little piece from Zoe Heller's novel about a teacher (Cate Blanchett, looking stunning) who has an affair with a 15 year old pupil and the effect this has on her relationship with a bitter, older teacher seeking selfishly for love (Judy Dench, looking 100). Great performances all round, with special mention to Bill Nighy in the Bill Nighy role. The script (Patrick Marber) is faithful to the book but enjoyable though the book was the film is actually - for a change - even better. Beautifully filmed in North London and Eastbourne (presumably the school scenes) this movie is definitely a must see.
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The Brits and an Aussie outdo US with "Notes on a Scandal"
EPDirector30 December 2006
Without a doubt this year's Academy Awards will be a show to watch. You may want to turn the spot lights to the "BEST ACTRESS IN LEADING ROLE" nomination, because if you saw "The Queen" and loved Helen Mirren, you ain't seen nothing' yet. Go watch "Notes on a Scandal" with Dame Judi Dench at helm, and make sure to bring your casket with you, because you may die of watching a movie that good.

Years ago I went to see a play in a theater. At some point in the show, the grandmother character had to sweep the floor and when she was done, she looked around to make sure nobody was looking and threw the dirt under the carpet. Everyone in the audience laughed. Later I learned that in theater "language" it also may mean that there are hidden secrets in that family.

The director Richard Eyre,who is known mostly for his theater/Broadway work, seems to build this amazing film based on that little theater shtick, and fills the film with the darkness under the carpet, puts us right there and makes us face that dirt. The characters of the young teacher played by Cate Blanchett and older teacher played by M. Judi Dench are impeccable and you can't take your eyes off them. I, personally, think that Dench's performance is one of the finest I have ever seen.

I wouldn't want to spoil the movie for you and give out details, however if you are looking for watching a powerful drama that will shock and thrill and move you with its message, execution and the story, please read no further. Stand up, get dressed and go to see "Notes on a Scandal" right now.

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A Tale of Obsession, Loneliness and Machiavellism
Claudio Carvalho5 February 2008
The bitter, cynical and lonely Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) is a tough and conservative teacher near to retirement that is loathed by her colleagues and students. In the loneliness of her apartment, she spends her spare time writing her journal, taking care of her old cat Portia and missing her special friend Jennifer Dodd. When Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) joins the high-school as the new art teacher, Barbara dedicates her attention to the newcomer, writing sharp and unpleasant comments about her behavior and clothes. When Barbara helps Sheba in a difficult situation with two students, the grateful Sheba invites her to have lunch with her family. Sheba introduces her husband and former professor Richard Hart (Bill Nighy), who is about twenty years older than she; her rebellious teenager daughter Polly (Juno Temple); and her son Ben (Max Lewis) that has Dawn Syndrome. Barbara becomes close to Sheba, but when she accidentally discovers that Sheba is having an affair with the fifteen year-old student Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson), Barbara sees the chance to manipulate and get closer to Sheba, hiding the secret from the school headmaster. When Portia dies and Sheba does not stay with Barbara in the veterinary office to see Ben in a theater play, Barbara plots a Machiavellian revenge against Sheba, creating a scandal and consequent turmoil in their lives.

"Note on a Scandal" is a gem to be discovered by movie lovers. This tale of obsession, loneliness and Machiavellism is supported by a magnificent screenplay and awesome performances of Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, two of the best actresses of the cinema industry in the present days. The story has drama, romance, passion, lust, obsession and eroticism disclosed in an adequate pace. The development of the lead characters is perfect, disclosing two lonely and obsessed women, one compulsive and loathed by everybody around her, and the other that is the object of desire of the old teacher, her husband and a young student. The result is one of the best movies that I have recently seen. My vote is nine.

Title (Brazil): "Notas Sobre Um Escândalo" ("Notes on a Scandal")
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Plenty happens in these notes.
ptb-814 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Possible spoiler alert: but I don't know ow else to tell you without hinting at the core of the film (not a spoiler really) that this excellent moral dilemma is about to be the most talked about film of 2007. It, quite simply is literally sensational. It is in my opinion, the best, neatest, most brutally succinct script since maybe ALL ABOUT EVE or WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF. You hang on every word, delivered as one punch after another... not mean dialog or lacerating, like WOOLF, but aptly exactly quietly bullseye precision to describe anyone or any scene or any action. It should and could easily win the Oscar for Best script. I would honestly say it is the most withering observation of Britain, and it's inhabitants since PLENTY. Perhaps even what DAMAGE had hoped to achieve but did not. Devastating mature and immoral, and therefore a frightening acting experience for the viewer as only Nighy, Blanchett and Dench can deliver. I am at a loss to even describe how well realized this film is because no matter what I say the film is better written and better told. NOTES ON A SCANDAL is a film about predatory behavior in a grubby suburban British school... and who exactly is preying upon whom and how effective, immoral or successful each of the protagonists are is a pungent topic of many disturbing visuals that will seriously haunt you for many days. Where do they find a kid exactly the right age and type and can act and would match it with Dench and Blanchett... and actually be photographed doing what his character does? I want to see the interview with his parents. NOTES ON A SCANDAL is massive cinema. An absolutely heartbreaking colossal achievement in small, suburban torment. It is among the best films I have ever seen... especially PLENTY and EVE mentioned above. How you feel the day after you see this film will change in the weeks to follow. NOTES is up there with the most superb immoral and disturbing films ever made. Warning! do not be put off by the terrible trailer! It makes it look like a bitch slap fest and Fox marketing should be caned for this tawdry sell. Skip the crappy grubby sell they have chosen and just take my advice... and maybe see the film alone first. But wow! is it good.
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"Notes On a Scandal": Judi Dench as Bloodsucking Fiend.
Jallipoli4 January 2007
A little-known fact about Araneae Arachidna, uncommonly known as the common spider: Only their nimble poise keeps them from tumbling into their webs. The slightest slip, the merest topple, and they'd be in as wretched a condition as the bloodless husks that litter their tacky lairs. In "Notes On a Scandal," (which enjoyed a limited release on Dec. 25), this delicate mean is most graphically illustrated in London schoolmarm, Barbara Covett (note the last name), whose rule in the classroom is adamantine, but whose grasp of words like "friend," "secret" and "love affair" are as tenuous as spider silk.

Dame Judi Dench's Covett is a history teacher in a British school that makes the one in "Saint Clara" look like an accounting firm made over by the Body Snatchers. Vicious football hooligans and wanton almost-women abound, "the future plumbers and shop clerks," in Covett's acid baroque. The teachers crouch in the gymnatorium, trading term reports, like beleaguered generals in the trenches. Covett's is the most succinct: Her classes are "below the National Average, but above the level of catastrophe. Recommendation: No change necessary." But no matter how we try to keep things status quo, change has a way of sluicing in through the cracks. At the start of the Fall term, change waltzes into Dench's life in the liquid form of new art teacher, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), who is as lovely as an Elf and her namesake together, but as free as a Hobbit, particularly about the loins, which she can't seem to stop airing out around a treacherously-charming 15-year-old, Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson), who is determined to pluck this Bohemian rose by means artful and sincere.

When Covett catches a sensuous eyeful of the twosome during a Christmas pageant, this starchy spider sees an opportunity to cinch her snare shut. She takes Hart into her confidence, promising not to tell for the sake of Hart, Connolly and the school (not to mention Covett's icy groin). Soon Covett is insinuating herself into the family life of her supple obsession, appearing at every lunch, outing (and inning), like some incestuous mother-in-law. Hart's family consists of a drolly self-amused husband (Bill Nighy), a teenage melancholic daughter (Juno Temple) and a son who suffers from Down's Syndrome (Max Lewis), whom Covett regards as a flimsy gauntlet between her heart and Hart.

When she's not haunting the Harts' steps, like an insufferably-haughty shadow, Covett can be found out at her meticulously-clutter-free abode, adorning her diary with gold stars and musing about everything from lasagna, to the "pubescent proles," to her only true friend in the world: her dying cat, an uncanny doppelganger of Mrs. Norris, Filch's feline in the Harry Potter movies.

Of course, everything falls apart spectacularly in the third act, with everyone's gory doings blared across every tube and telly from Bath to Birmingham. But what's even more amazing is the way everything falls back together in the end. There are the wounds that cleave, yes, and those which sew us back more strongly than ever. These are the darling themes of director Richard Eyre, whose previous pairing with Dench was the Alzheimer's weeper, "Iris". Eyre is a fellow who believes---truly believes---in the all-conquering power of love, not as a Disneyfied platitude, but as an attracting force, binding beyond all reason, even when every particle of logic screams, "Resist!" Love is a jigsaw puzzle. Smash it to bits, the pieces will snap themselves back into place snugger than ever.

"I can't imagine Iris without me, just as I can't imagine myself without Iris!" says John Bayley of his dear heart, and here similar sentiments apply. Even Covett, at the end, finds herself returning to her first love: herself, her solitude in her aloof tower, hurling down snide remarks, like Molotov cocktails. For Eyre, love is a pliant stone; bendable, yes; breakable---never! One of the great charms of "Notes On a Scandal," as with "Iris," is seeing a supremely royal woman behave like an utter slob. In "Iris," we watched the wits of one of the great literary showwomen of our time rust and rot, but oh-so tenderly. Here, we have Dench muttering such crude asides as: "Lasagna doesn't agree with my bowels; I shall eat as little as possible." Another double take-inducing moment has Dench "stroking" Blanchett's arm in ways most titillative. "Did they do this at your other school?" she asks without a wink of shame. The preview crowd I saw this with couldn't stop snorting with disbelief every time Dench opened her mouth, often laughing before she'd even finished her sentences.

Stripping the iron mail away from our social betters, revealing their pink backsides---this is where Eyre is at his best. We see Dench not in silk-strewn palaces, but in settings both earthy and beige---in simple windbreakers and cardigans. Scenes of tension are shot with jittery hand-held cameras, stifling intimacy, and every window pane bears a film of damp moulder.

These bleak backdrops have a way of humanizing Dench, bringing her down to the contradictions coursing under the crust of the mundane. Dench's Covett has a stalker's knack of deconstructing the simplest gestures---a hair drifting onto her lap, the brushing of a hand---as thunderclaps of loving proclamation. When faced with the ugly contraries real humans are composed of, Covett regards them as base treacheries, then tosses people away, like chipped porcelain. She possesses the kind of idealism only a rapist enjoys. Anyone who falls short is cut off, like a gangrenous limb. But witnessing this, we come to realize Covett is her own worst victim. She's doomed to live in a world which falls forever short of her expectations. In other words, she's human. We pity her.
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An excellent script is topped only by brilliant performances from Dench and Blanchett
DonFishies18 April 2007
Right after I saw the trailer for Notes on a Scandal late last year, I knew it was going to be a good movie. I also knew that Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett were destined for Oscar nominations. Sure enough, the film got rave reviews and the two actresses popped up on the Oscar ballot. Going two for two cannot be a bad thing, but I never got a chance to see the movie until now. And I was very impressed.

The film tells the story of Barbara Covett (Dench), a teacher at a local high school who is melancholic and just about ready to retire. She longs to find someone to love and to love her back. As she enters into the first day of school, she comes across the new art teacher, Sheba Hart (Blanchett), who she becomes attracted to almost instantaneously. But as she gets closer to Hart, she uncovers a rather alarming secret that may prove to be of good use to her.

Yes, by now most people should know which secret I am referring to. But as the explanation unfolds no more than twenty minutes into the film, the after effects of hearing it are still as shocking as before you knew it.

The grim picture of blackmail, deceit and sexual perversion that unfolds during the movie is nothing short of excellent. The story is very well written, and is even better narrated by Dench through her character's diary writing during the film. The bold language conveyed may be a little much to take at first, but it really makes the unnerving experience all the better. Not to mention the fact that such a dark film, the settings and images are pretty gloomy as well. The ruminating score is also very well done, and really makes many of the scenes all the stronger than they already are.

Another significant element to the film is the language mentioned earlier. At once, it is saucy, enigmatic and witty. Listening to these characters talk is like reading poetry. It is well-versed, and almost comes off like a brilliant play (it helps that it was adapted by a playwright). The language is not just higher-up sounding because it is British; it is because the film is deeply indebted to the academics. Yes, this may just be a very around-the-bit way of saying everyone in the film is a snob, but they are not. They are just very polished and intelligent.

The film more than belongs to Dench. She always acts at the most illustrious of levels. But here, she is at her absolutely best, or at least, from what I have ever seen her do. Her scheming and brooding performance as a hell-bent lesbian is simply astonishing. She brings flavour to every scene, and her emotional range is just off the charts. It is very candid in some ways, and a very honest portrayal of someone who just wants to be loved. Her character is really a ticking time bomb. At many moments, she is very restrained and holding back (in a good way mind you). But in others, she really gets going, and more than just blows up. She ignites and lights up the screen in a way that only the older British actresses can. After seeing such a dazzling performance from Helen Mirren in The Queen, and a downright wicked Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, I was not expecting another performance to be more than deserving of an Oscar. But Dench hits this out of the park, and more than deserved her nomination.

Much the same goes for Blanchett. Although she brought all that she could to Babel, you had to know that she was being very withdrawn from her usual level of intensity. But that is all brought back for her performance here. While she is not nearly as incendiary as Dench, she holds her own and pulls off a hell of a performance. Her emotionally wounded character goes through much of the film as an excuse for disgusted pathos. But as the dust settles, Blanchett really opens up and blossoms into something of an enigma. Is the audience to feel for her, or should we want something bad to happen to her? The character's sinful nature really tests you much the same as the two leads in Hard Candy, and the audience will probably get that double-edged sword of emotions as they watch her on screen. She is very calculating, and she is very strong in her role. And for all of what she has to put up with on screen, I doubt anyone could have pulled off as nearly a strong supporting turn to Dench as Blanchett does.

But where does that leave the rest of the cast then? Overshadowed and underplayed is where. Bill Nighy, a great character actor, is given very little to do but stand and question what is going on around him. You could say that Nighy doing nothing and doing it well is attesting to how great an actor he is. But for a character that should be much more important in the scheme of things, it just comes off as a bit of a disappointment. Much the same goes for the young Andrew Simpson. He is an even more important character, but his great work as a misunderstood juvenile is very unobtrusive. When his character really should do something, he does not, and the audience is left to wonder "what if?"

On the whole, Notes on a Scandal is very well written and brilliantly acted by Dench and Blanchett. It feels like it drags itself along in some scenes and gives very little for any other actor in the film to do, but the two actresses more than make up for it. It is clearly one of the best films of last year, and more than likely, one of the most little seen.

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tense, funny, captivating, and never dull
angelmuze23 January 2007
The most realistic teacher movie that I have ever seen. Yes, the teacher with her student isn't the norm, but the scenes of the faculty meetings were more accurate than Dangerous Minds or most of the pablum teacher films out there. Dame Judi Dench deserves the Oscar for her riveting turn as a curmudgeon teacher. I laughed out loud during the scene where each teacher must turn in their expectations for the upcoming year. Cate Blanchett makes a difficult character sympathetic. This is a great film with superb acting and true pathos. It is about real people who sometimes act out of loneliness and frustration. Even people with good intentions and good morales make poor judgments and they must reap what they sow. Rarely does a film about the ordinary seem so extraordinary.
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A psychological tour de force for two superb leading ladies
aharmas27 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Its preview is not one of the best of the year; nevertheless it hints at some of the of amazing acting you are bound to experience in this film. Judy Dench continues to own each and everyone of the characters she takes on. This time, as the diabolical and deranged spinster who might end up destroying a few lives with her maneuvers and schemes. Blanchet is the vulnerable and too trusting woman who relies too much on the kindness and interventions of others. When these two meet, the repercussions are bound to have tragic overtones.

Both play teachers in a public London school and because of destiny, and bit of intervention by Dench's aggressive "battle-ax", they form an uneasy and unstable relationship that becomes more and more twisted, as Blanchet becomes involved with a not-suitable paramour. Soon, Dench is spinning a web of her own in order to commence another non-reciprocal friendship. Eventually, things are bound to explode, and when they do, the sparks will fly and ignite a few fires that are not going to be easily put out.

"Scandal" is much better than the typical thriller we have been getting lately. This one comes with enough background to make us understand why our characters are so vulnerable and misguided. It is scary because it shows how close humans are to other creatures who surrendered to emotions and passions that are more typical of less intelligent creatures. Still, it shows that there are emotions that just too strong to deal with, without proper intervention.

Dench adds another powerful turn to her long list of superb acting jobs. Blanchet continues to dazzle us, as her doomed teacher displays emotions one rarely witnesses on the screen. Her breakdown scenes and her reactions to the devastation that suddenly engulfs her characters are bound to become standards other actresses will try to emulate and might never surpass. "Scandal" is a fine thriller, with enough twists and turns to make us wonder about the complexities of human interaction.
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molly_bloom25 February 2007
The next time i see a film with a music of Philip Glass, i'll just stay at home. That man destroys everything. The film was not really subtle but with the addition of the music it went catastrophic. Otherwise, the actresses are doing their best but i was most impressed by Bill Nighy. As for the rest, i was already annoyed after twenty minutes. It is not so clear in the book that Barbara is a lesbian, here, if you don't get it, you're dead blind and deaf. It so makes the whole story blunt and uninteresting. But i guess you have to try to sell tickets. I hope Zoe Heller got a big check. On the other hand it is always pleasant to have a view of London, and of the state that country is in.
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Electrifying psychodrama about two complex women drawn to each other for quite different reasons
roland-1046 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Brilliant psychodrama about an intense relationship that develops between two London high school teachers. Barbara Covett (Dame Judi Dench), who teaches history, is cynical, lonely and close to retirement; Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), an art teacher, is 37, married and the mother of two teens, surprisingly naïve, a new arrival on the faculty. Both women are complex characters, vulnerable, needy, and these shared attributes draw them toward one another.

Sheba gets off to a rotten start at the school, unable to control her students' behavior. Barbara, who brooks no misconduct, having honed over the years skills that would do a drill sergeant proud, comes to Sheba's aid after a terrible row in Sheba's classroom. Barbara reaches out to befriend Sheba after this, and we gradually come to understand that Barbara, a spinster, is in fact a well closeted lesbian who remains bereft after another teacher spurned her and actually fled her job and the city to get away from Barbara the previous summer. Now attracted to Sheba, she makes a number of well calculated efforts to insinuate herself into the younger teacher's life.

Trouble is, Sheba is preoccupied not only with the challenge of her new career, but also with her unfulfilling marriage to an older writer, Richard (Bill Nighy), and the demands of her post pubescent, boy struck daughter, Polly (Juno Temple) and Downs son Ben (Max Lewis). As if there weren't enough already on her plate, Sheba, who has no clue about nor interest in any erotic entanglement with Barbara or any other woman, lets herself become involved in a sexual liaison with one of her young students, 15 year old Steven (Andrew Simpson).

Barbara fortuitously discovers their affair, lets Sheba know she knows, then hastens to pledge to keep their secret, if only Sheba will end her little romance before real damage is done. It is through this manipulation that Barbara intends to intensify her grip on Sheba. From here a series of misadventures unfolds, and no one is spared a stiff dose of humiliation and dislocation: not Barbara, not Sheba, Richard, Steven or anyone else associated with them. A scandal of broad proportions is indeed in the making.

The director, Richard Eyre, has done very good work with Judi Dench before, in "Iris." The sizzling screenplay, by Patrick Marber, was adapted from Zoe Heller's 2003 novel, "What Was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal." Marber pushes the psychodynamic limits here, moving the viewer close to the tipping point for suspension of disbelief, as he did in his equally accomplished screenplay for the marvelous 2004 film, "Closer," adapted from his own stage script.

There are two developments in particular that test us. Why should Sheba yield so readily to young Steven's amorous overtures? And, later, why should the usually cool headed Barbara make such boldly possessive demands of Sheba, right in front of Sheba's family, in the nasty encounter the day Barbara's cat must be put down? The answer in both cases has to do with the vulnerability, the longing, that these women have been enduring, expressed by each in a manner consistent with her psychological makeup. Both are close to desperation.

We've been told and even shown, flat out, after all, that Sheba has a vicious and unloving mother. Presumably she was twisted to severe neuroticism long before she ever married her older professor. She persevered, raising two kids, one a tough challenge, but now, stressed by her teaching job and out of love at home, her reserves have run dry and she is at high risk for impulsive behavior. Barbara, we can surmise, has struggled through painful decades of despair over her largely unfulfilled homophilia.

This is a splendidly constructed and enacted drama of the heart, full of scathing humor (from Barbara) as well as cliff hanger suspense and emotional tension. All the players named are good, and they are aided by others: all the roles are uniformly well performed. For Ms. Dench, it's a turn on a par with Helen Mirren's Elizabeth II in The Queen - these are the best two film performances by an English speaking actress in 2006. Indeed, these two are perhaps Britain's finest female actors of their generation. Ms. Blanchett's work is evolving toward a similar distinction among performers of her generation. My grades: 9/10 (A) (Seen on 01/05/07)
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Too short and contrived to really make the list
n-mo30 March 2008
"Notes on a Scandal" seeks to transform what was apparently a singular epistolary journal-novel (which I have not read) into a multidimensional theatrical masterpiece. And well-crafted indeed is this little psycho-sexual thriller. Regrettably, by the end, digesting the substance is akin to the sensation biting into a long, juicy red steak, only to discover that a couple of millimeters down lies an inedible and unsatisfying web of sinewy cartilage and bone.

Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett are indeed fabulous, although it is hard to imagine either of them being anything less. In spite of their loathsome behaviour--Dench's subversive lesbian seductions and Blanchett's pædophilia--they manage to inject enough humour and charm into their roles to become multifaceted and complex characters. Blanchett's could easily have been nothing more than a whiny, malcontented upper-middle-class shrew, but her naïve, self-conscious flightiness and aesthetic sense are shown to be but manifestations of a longing for true, substantive beauty--and it's easy to identify with her husband, her young lover and her colleague in being enamored of her. (Too easy, actually, given the rather graphic depictions of her affair with Irish lad Steven Connolly).

But it is Judi Dench's character who really stands out. "Notes on a Scandal" attracted a bit of controversy from those who felt its depiction of "repressed lesbianism" wasn't "progressive" enough for the "Gay is Good" times of "Brokeback Mountain." But while arguably a large part of the psychological twist of the film does, indeed, play off of the audience's prejudice against homoeroticism as inherently perverse (not, I confess, a prejudice that offends myself), I would not used "repressed" to describe Dench's character; "closeted" would be more accurate. She is perfectly self-aware of her desires, and she does not seem at all troubled at the inherent conflict between indulging them and nurturing her steadfastly conservative worldview. She seems to fervently believe in the latter. Her character is truly enigmatic, and captivating: it is quite easy to see how Blanchett's could have been so drawn in to her world and missed--or willfully denied--the signs of where this road was really headed.

Regrettably, however, once the film has had enough of exploring these two characters, it abruptly cuts itself off with a climax that turns on a rather incredulous and sloppy premise completely contradictory to Dench's prior development. If Blanchett and Dench really had been fleshed out to the max--which I'm not exactly sure of--why not spend a bit more time exploring Connelly, his family, Blanchett's husband, perhaps? But granting this one major misstep, the ending that follows is "logical," so to say, though hardly satisfactory. We were given the impression that the film set itself up for a deeper or more psychological reading and we are sorely disappointed. "Notes on a Scandal" is a good non-date thriller for those who will not be mind-warped by rather intense depictions of cradle-robbing, but it cannot make the list of "Great Cinema."
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Notes on Notes On A Scandal - Blackmail can't buy you love
Rogue-3228 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Notes On A Scandal is a nearly-perfect film, a seductive little foray into deliciously dangerous territory, with tons of seething undercurrent to spare.

In one of the most fearless, fierce and feral performances of any recent decade, Dame Judi Dench pulls out all the stops in her portrayal of the not-so-subtly-named Barbara Covett, the history teacher with quite a past of her own: she continues to deludedly search for a 'companion' with whom to share her life without ever comprehending that love is not a commodity to be bought, sold or traded - it must be given, freely. When she sets her sights on the new art teacher (another great performance from Blanchett), Barbara winds up repeating the pattern, to the same disastrous end result.

A simple story, basically. But it's the brilliant way it unfolds that allows the movie to succeed, on many levels.

The film is narrated by Barbara, in the form of her journals, and this sucks us in straight away. We see we're getting an intellectually on-the-ball character here, which is always attractive, and at the onset, we're almost on her side. By the time we see what's really going on in her twisted version of reality, it's too late, we're already involved - sort of like in a bad relationship - and we have no choice but to see the situation through to its bitter end.

The film also works by being dizzyingly over the top in spots. This has been seen as a detriment by some people, but I think they're missing the point. The situation that spirals out of control in the course of the proceedings IS outrageous, and by going for a blatant approach rather than a more sedate, repressed one, the film mirrors the situation brilliantly. And the actors are all playing it for real - this is not camp, it's not satire - which makes the tragic absurdity of the situation resonate all the more.

There's another element at play here, something far more subtle. In the film, Barbara has a cat whom she is abnormally attached to. A little ways in, I started picking up on how Barbara herself is like a cat - a feral cat, seeking another (more domesticated) cat over whom she can exert control. When her cat dies, Barbara is subconsciously trying to replace her with Blanchett's character, her new "pet". There's a lot to support this. Blanchett's name in the film is Sheba. A brand of cat food. There is also a lot of talk about 'stroking', and there is a scene where Barbara mentions feral animals, how they can sense fear. There are also at least 2 scenes between Barbara and Sheba, where Barbara, who is done being cordial, literally snarls at her, clearly reverting to her primal and vicious feral-cat state. And it's no coincidence that both of the females to whom Barbara is attracted (Sheba, and at the end, Sheba's potential replacement) are shown with cream on their upper lips, something that Barbara finds perversely endearing.

This would have been a perfect film if it hadn't been for one bit of sloppiness toward the end; the way in which Sheba's character learns of Barbara's true motivation and true feelings is written really badly. I just couldn't believe that ol' Barb would become so complacent so as to let Sheba find what she finds, which lets the proverbial cat out of the proverbial bag. Other than this, however, Notes On A Scandal is, very much like Barbara Covett herself, quite the piece of work.
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Wanted more.
MikeyMook10 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
It has become such a cliché to say 'the book's better than the film', but here is a film that once again allows people to say it.

I'm so disappointed with this film because it didn't take any chances. Where was the controversy? Fair enough, a teacher having an affair with a fifteen year old boy IS controversial in itself, but there was a distinct lack of cutting edge about the way in which this film told this story. I couldn't help but feel that had this film tried something similar to 'Venus' or 'History Boys', it would have been unforgettable. Where it fails in my opinion, is the relationship between the fifteen year old and the teacher. I didn't feel that the actors nailed the characters and I didn't believe that this woman could ever be attracted to this boy. He had absolutely no allure whatsoever and the relationship between them was neither sexy or controversially approached. Perhaps the filmmakers decided against making us understand the teacher's feelings because they wanted the audience to feel detached from her mindset, but to me it seemed to be an opportunity missed. There is no hiding for Cate Blanchett in this role, because she is playing alongside Judi Dench and although she is a terrific actress, I feel that once again her performance was stilted by her accent work; I never quite believed in her middle class English background. It also begs the question: when is our British talent going to get the nod over Blanchett/Kidman/Zellwegger in these meaty British roles. Dench inevitably steals the show here and effortlessly shakes off the handcuffs that playing a part like 'M' in Casino Royale put on her. She is quite magnificent.

The disappointment for me mainly came from the classic book becomes a film transition. Voice-over and a bit hurried. 'One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest' for example, made a film out of a book. It didn't simply represent a book on film. Hopefully the next big adaptation will get it right.
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Her wicked, wicked ways
ecko_4713 January 2007
"Notes on a Scandal" packs more heat, acid, danger and drama into its brief running time than most films of nearly double the length.

Directing Patrick Marber's script of Zoe Heller's novel (also known as "What Was She Thinking?"), Richard Eyre ("Iris," "The Ploughman's Lunch") whips up a rich, tart stew of heated melodrama, bitter comedy, cunning social observation and knockout acting. The result is pungent and toothsome, a blend of Evelyn Waugh, Harold Pinter and "To Die For" -- a bracing concoction decidedly not for the delicate of disposition.

Judi Dench stars as Barbara Covett, an spinster high school teacher of North London who holds the world around her in contempt and makes her way like a hungry spider, spinning webs of sticky charms to coax friendships from younger women who have no idea of her true nature. One September morn, her attention is drawn to the new substitute art teacher, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), a shimmering, willowy presence in whom Barbara invests a reservoir of longing.

Invited for Sunday lunch, Barbara is introduced to Sheba's husband (Bill Nighy), her children and her bohemian past. Presently she learns even more: Sheba is enmeshed in a sexual affair with one of her students (Andrew Simpson, who, like the character he plays, is beyond the British age of consent of 16). For Sheba, this is a shattering situation, with implications of scandal, divorce and even prosecution. For Barbara, though (remember her surname), it's a pry bar through the use of which she can break into Sheba's life and assert herself as adviser, best friend and perhaps more.

This bare-bones account of the plot gives an idea of the sort of sensational tactics available to Marber and Eyre. To be sure, they aren't in the least afraid of using them liberally: Scenes of sex, stalking, vengeance-taking, mental breakdown and violent explosion happen throughout the film. It's as lurid a domestic drama as you could crave.

Yet the details of the story cannot compare in sheer scalding impact to the dialogue: Barbara mocking Sheba's schoolgirl romance with a firm, "You are not young!" or Sheba rubbing Barbara's girl-crush in her face with a sneering, "You think this is a love affair?" or the dozens of heartless observations that pad Barbara's diaries, from which the narration is drawn. Marber, who wrote both the play and the film "Closer" as well as some inky comedy for Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge character, drops these lines into the script like mortar shells, and Eyre never lets up on the pace to give us a chance to recover from them.

Its raw nastiness alone might have recommended the film, but Eyre has populated it with extraordinary performances that make it truly first rank. Dench is haggard and spiteful and manipulative and wheedling and cruel, a catalog of human failings and neediness as credible as the best Iago. As Sheba, Blanchett has a fully believable frailty and spaciness bred in a combination of privilege and vacancy. Nighy, fast becoming one of the most irreplaceable actors in the cinema, truly feels like someone decent on whom a series of incomprehensible catastrophes has fallen. And young Simpson has both the altar-boy shyness and the astounding cheek to make his character seem entirely real. It's simply a bravura festival of fine acting.

There's a lot of disquieting material in "Notes on a Scandal," and many people will be put off by depictions of a liaison between a grown woman and a teenage boy, or of a tacitly lesbian spinster as a spiteful harridan. But it's staged and played with such razor-sharp technique and feels so much like a slice of actual (if not ordinary) life that its accomplishments simply trump such reservations. Eyre and his collaborators spring wicked trap after wicked trap, and the deeply human pain you feel and witness is utterly delicious.
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If you're a fan of "Lifetime: Television for Women", you'll love this movie!
contained15 October 2007
I'm in disbelief at the overwhelming number of glowing reviews that this film has received! I found it to be formulaic and forgettable, suburban housewife fodder that truly seemed "Made for Television". There was no discernible chemistry between Blanchett and her student, and are we to assume her "terrible marriage" drove her to this affair merely because of the token son with down syndrome and the age gap between her and her husband? There was no empathy created here at all, particularly when the scenes depicting her home life consisted mostly of smiles and laughter.

The only redeeming factor in this film was Dench's performance and the excerpts of her diary. Too bad this quality of writing and acting was absent in the rest of the film.
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