Director: Richard Eyre
Screenwriter: Patrick Marber
Running Time: 92 mins
The ripping sound you hear is the sound of your own heart breaking as you wring your hands in terror and anticipation while watching Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench blithely and snidely dance around each other in this electrifying psychodrama. Notes on a Scandal is a tightly acted, directed, and of course, themed film with controversial subjects. Richard Eyre, who directed Dench in Iris, helms this picture, and Phillip Glass adds darkness and portent with his film score.
Blanchett plays Sheba Hart, a too-pretty-to-walk-among-us earth child who teaches art at an Islington school. Dench is Barbara Covett, an aptly-named veteran teacher at the school who records every nuance of her slowing, embittered life in her journals, or at least records them how she sees them unfolding, with her unblinking, ever-watchful cat’s eye. The two meet and become friends. Tragedy is inevitable. Hart confides in Covett that she has begun an affair with one of the students, and Covett, lonesome, despicable, and petty, uses this information to launch a campaign of such dedicated emotional blackmail against her friend that Hart is helpless but to fall prey to her.
Dench is marvelously pitiable and rage inducing as Covett as she whines, pleads, charms and seduces her way into Hart’s life, while Blanchett herself is beguiling, steely, frustrated and frazzled as Hart. Even Bill Nighy pulls it together in a, if not totally straight, believable performance as Sheba’s distracted husband. All of this drama is shrouded in the sinister death cloud of Glass’s score, and is the better for it.
Notes on a Scandal could have been a cloyingly emotional tear jerker or a frightening bunny boiler, but instead is a suspenseful, thought-provoking and thrilling film starring two of cinema’s favorite queens. Though there is plenty to shout and cry about in the story, there is no shouting where there shouldn’t be, and no tears that are unnecessarily shed. In Notes on a Scandal there is only anxiety, anticipation, a little bit of sorrow, and that ripping sound.
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