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Notes on a Scandal

Art House & International movie directed by Richard Eyre

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An Intense, Powerful Story Ignited by Dench and Blanchett

  • Apr 20, 2007
  • by
Rating:
+5
NOTES ON A SCANDAL invites the audience to read the diary of a very lonely, crusty, frumpy, acerbic history teacher Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) through the voice-over narrative throughout this challenging, harsh, but very brave cinematic version on the novel 'What Was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal' by Zoe Heller, brilliantly adapted for the screen by Patrick Marber. It is a success on every level - story, direction, cinematography, and especially acting.

Barbara Covett (Dench) is a fierce disciplinarian in a school populated by children who are more interested in drugs and misbehavior than in learning. She has no life except with her aging cat Portia, spending her lonely hours away from the classroom making entries into a journal. Into this icy atmosphere comes a new art teacher, the luminously beautiful free-spirited Sheba (very significantly short for Bathsheba!) Hart (Cate Blanchett). Barbara notices Sheba's presence at first with critical disdain then with fascination: Sheba is new to teaching, having 'wasted' her life as a potential artist by marrying too early her senior teacher Richard (Bill Nighy) and mothering two children, teenage Polly (Juno Temple) and Down's Syndrome Ben (Max Lewis), and now wanting to make something interesting of her life. Sheba enters into an affair with 15-year-old Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson), a lad who wins her attention first through sympathy ploy for his 'bad home life' and eventually conquers her better judgment by paying physical attention and gratification to her. Barbara secretly observes the couple en flagrant and lets her new friend know of her discovery of an act that is criminal.

The manner in which Barbara gains Sheba's attention by keeping Sheba's explosively dangerous behavior a shared secret leads to a fulfillment of Barbara's wish to not spend her life alone: she is in love with Sheba and will stop at nothing to have Sheba to herself. But when Sheba is unable to stop her sensual dalliance with Steven, Barbara begins a course of events that leads to destruction of all kinds. The journal entries tell it all in scrupulous detail.

The entire cast is superb, much to the credit of director Richard Eyre (Stage Beauty, Iris, The Ploughman's Lunch, and multiple television adaptations of classics). His sense of pacing the action is overwhelmingly fine. For this viewer the musical score by the gifted Philip Glass is successful in maintaining tension, but is far more mundane than his other scores and composing - and the music drowns the dialog far too often. But this is a minor flaw when compared to the intelligent, sensitive, subtle, completely credible performances by both Dench and Blanchett. They are the epitome of fine actors and watching them work is an awe-inspiring pleasure. The film deals with difficult subject matter but succeeds in steering clear of sensationalism to present the sad inner lives of two disparate yet similar women. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, April 07

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More Notes on a Scandal reviews
review by . March 06, 2010
Pros: Dench and Blanchett ... outstanding     Cons: none for me     The Bottom Line:   "Betrayal, Betrayal,  Will this world make better sense?  Once you mean nothing to me..."  ~The Black Maria     I absolutely love it when they give you the unexpected and make it seem so expected. By the time Notes On A Scandal finished you almost forgot what the initial scandal was about because it had turned into …
review by . December 15, 2008
DVD
Lonely high school teacher Barbara Covett (Judi Dench)'s only confidant is her diary, in which she records her intimate thoughts and frequent delusions of happiness. Young Sheba (Cate Blanchett) joins the faculty and Barbara's fascination with her soon turns to obsession. When she discovers Sheba's affair with a student, Barbara agrees to keep the secret, but her unreasonable demands of Sheba's time and loyalty lead to disaster.     What a movie! It is absolutely wonderful. Both …
review by . February 06, 2008
Barbara is one of those gargoyles of a teacher we all had in junior high. Her students regard her with apprehension, but few who know her know what she really is. Barbara's a predator. A master of manipulation, her victims remain trustfully unaware of the danger that lurks until it's way too late. Notes on a Scandal is populated by users. Sure, they can differentiate right from wrong, but when it comes down to something they want, they're consciences are very flexible. But Barbara alone possesses …
review by . November 25, 2007
Pros: Dench's and Blanchett's performances; direction.     Cons: Predictable at times.     The Bottom Line: Probably one of the best films you haven¬ít seen in quite some time.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. Despite our tendency toward the wholesale slaughter of our fellows from time-to-time, we humans are social creatures. Even I, an admitted introvert, at times suffered from bouts of loneliness …
review by . November 02, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Based on the book by Zoe Heller, NOTES ON A SCANDAL is a most intriguing drama-thriller starring Cate Blanchett and Dame Judi Dench in two of their most gutsy and honest performances.    Public school history teacher Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) is a self-sufficient loner, preferring to keep to herself, recording all her thoughts and poisonous opinions about her colleagues in various diaries. When new art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) arrives on the scene, Barbara writes …
review by . May 14, 2007
Food, water, clothing and shelter are the things human beings need to physically survive. But our highly evolved brains require something else as well: connection. We seek it through friends, lovers, music, pets, soap opera characters and in certain desperate situations probably soccer balls. Without it, we will surely go mad. Mad like the aptly named Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), who, in turns her attention to a new co-worker in her desperate, endless quest to... connect.     Both …
review by . April 19, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Acting, story, music, how the mood is set and maintained      Cons: None      The Bottom Line: This is a type of Lolita with genders reversed and blackmail thrown in for extra tension. Not a 'fun' movie, but certainly a brilliant one.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.      I must admit to a minor literary sin; I have never read Lolita. I know from having …
review by . February 04, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Notes on a Scandal is a decently scripted, nicely filmed melodrama, lifted by a great performance from Judi Dench, who manages her character's gentle arc from lonely old battleaxe to psychotic nutcase well - though it remained, over the whole course of the film, too easy to empathise with Barbara: when she should have been approaching skin-crawling territory: the literate and dryly delivered bon mots of Barbara's diary, and her gentle allusions to Virginia Woolf, didn't wane and she remained the …
About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Ranked #42
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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Gold stars to all for this taut psychological thriller based on Zoe Heller's novel that that gets more insidiously twisted as it unfolds. Oscar-nominated for her chilling performance, Dame Judi Dench gives a master class as schoolteacher Barbara Covett, a frumpy, friendless, and flinty spinster who lives with her cat. A formidable presence, Barbara is standoffish with colleagues and not one for students to trifle with (not that they'd dare). Cate Blanchett, also an Oscar nominee and winner of several critics society awards for her impassioned performance, costars as Sheba Hart, the new, overwhelmed art teacher who first becomes enthrall to Barbara after she steps in to help Sheba discipline unruly students. Barbara cultivates a friendship, and insinuates herself into Sheba's chaotic life, which includes her older husband (Bill Nighy), teenage daughter, and a son with Down's syndrome. Then, Barbara catches the reckless Sheba in a compromising position with a 15-year-old student (Andrew Simpson). Seizing her opportunity, the calculating Barbara does not turn her in. Rather, she wants to "help" her. "She's the one I've been waiting for," she writes in the journals she meticulously keeps, and which provide, in voiceover, her corrosive commentary. This all sounds very Fatal Attraction, but no boiling rabbits, please; we're British. Philip Glass's Oscar-nominated score accentuates the growing menace. Though there is little in ...

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