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Notes on a Scandal

Art House & International movie directed by Richard Eyre

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The Dame is Wonderfully Evil and Entertaining

  • Nov 25, 2007
  • by
Pros: Dench's and Blanchett's performances; direction.

Cons: Predictable at times.

The Bottom Line: Probably one of the best films you haven’t 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 in which I thought I’d lose my mind for the want of another’s humans touch, the sound of a live human beings’ voice, the intimacy of the quiet close whisper; preferably of the opposite sex mind you.

So it is that I indentified—perhaps too closely—with Dame Judy Dench’s character Barbara in 2006’s Notes on a Scandal. I would never go as far as her in seeking the milk of human kindness, the abiding silky satisfaction of human touch, but I could certainly commiserate with the depth of her loneliness as it was depicted on film; I (an indeed millions of other human beings) have at times traversed that road, felt that yawning pain. Her despair and emptiness were at time palpable and that is the tragedy and beauty of this dramatic and entertaining film.

Directed by Richard Eyre (Stage Beauty) Notes on a Scandal opens with Barbara, portrayed by the aforementioned Dench (Mrs. Brown, Golden Eye, Pride & Prejudice) writing in her diary in eloquent English prose that is sharp of tongue and entirely entertaining. Her thoughts as she transcribes them into her diary are read aloud by Barbara. On this occasion she is ruminating about the young new art teacher Sheba portrayed by Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, Pushing Tin, Babel) who has come to teach at the quintessential English school where Barbara has taught for quite a spell.

At first Barbara watch and admires Sheba from afar, but then an incident occurs that allows the two woman to meet, and a budding friendship develops. Thereafter Barbara’s musings become more obsessive, as does her behavior towards Sheba; she fancy’s a life with the woman despite the fact that she is married with children. But Barbara’s loneliness is so physical that she is willing to bet her lot on Sheba. And when she discovers Sheba in an inappropriate liaison with a male student, she sees a chance to use the encounter to her advantage. Barbara confronts Sheba, but promises to keep her secret if she breaks it off with the boy, no doubt hoping that their shared secret will bind them together. All the while we are privy to Barbara’s innermost secrets through her diary narrations.

My Thoughts

Notes on a Scandal undeniably belonged to Judy Dench. Her regal bearing and indomitable presence were not to be denied. Ms. Dench played Barbara with a complexity seldom seen in American cinema. Despite her outward controlled veneer inside Barbara was very human and longed for the companionship that was oft denied her. Her loneliness became more than a physical ache begging for a quick fix, it became a part of her personality, albeit one she kept neatly hidden from view most of the time. Dench does a marvelous job of portraying the spinster seeking the love and companionship of youth through guile and (very) self-serving deception.

Cate Blanchett has never been more beautiful and beguiling as she is in this role as the middle-class bohemian turned art teacher. Blanchett’s skin is flawless even as Dench’s is aged to perfection with dignified lines etched into every surface. Blanchett plays her character with droplets sweep of naivete that are quite engaging. And she plays well opposite the Dame, though her character was not as complex or compelling as Dench’s.

To be sure Notes on a Scandal was somewhat predictable but the two principle characters stick it so well that I didn’t really care that I knew what was to come next, the movie was just that delicious. Dench’s tightly scripted narration is was made the movie come together; without her very English recitations Notes on a Scandal would not have been nearly as engaging, nor as entertaining and fulfilling.


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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October 18, 2010
I actually have this movie at home. I need to make time for it. Thanks for the review!
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
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 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 20, 2007
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 …
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
Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #78
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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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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