Notes On A Scandal Richard Eyre

Based on Zoe Heller’s celebrated novel, Notes On A Scandal is a delectable drama that captures some magnificent tension between two of the business’s best.

Dame Judi Dench plays Barbara Covett, a self-proclaimed spinster living out her professional days as a snooping high school history teacher in London. When the blithe Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) joins the ranks as the school’s art teacher, Barbara is immediately taken with her new counterpart, adding her as a major character to her juicy diary entries. Establishing a mentor/student relationship, the pair becomes quite close, and Barbara finds compulsive delight in being adopted by Sheba’s unconventional family, which includes the magnetic Bill Nighy as her husband Richard.

However, Sheba’s not quite as innocent as she pretends to be, landing herself in a tumultuous love affair with her 15-year-old student Steven. Choosing to confide in Barbara, Sheba soon falls into a game of blackmail, as Barbara makes her motives clear that this isn’t just a friendship but a full-on obsession.

The story follows some expected turns such a web-filled premise is bound to succumb to — secrets slip, drama ignites, repercussions are dealt — but it’s the electrifying performances that raise this scandalous film above its foreseeable conclusion. Dench and Blanchett both raise their acting chops to yet another level.

Dench brilliantly portrays Barbara with a balance of cutthroat scheming and pitiful vulnerability that is marvellously sustained; she leaves the viewer unsure of whether to sympathise or loathe such a creature. Blanchett, on the other hand, is caught in between innocence and aloofness, and often feels more like the baddie in the film.

It’s practically in the bag that these two Oscar-accustomed stars will add yet another nomination to their long list of accomplishments when the New Year rolls around. (Nighy too, is worthy of acknowledgement.) For the performances alone this is worthwhile, but there’s plenty of melodramatic twists and turns to enjoy Heller’s story as something more than just a showcase in fine acting. (Fox Searchlight)