Joanna Langfield reviews “Notes On A Scandal”

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It’s almost astonishing two men (director Richard Eyre and screenwriter Patrick Marber) could translate Zoe Heller’s titillating novel, What Was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal, into such a wise film portrait about women.

It is exciting enough to watch two of our finest actresses, Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett take each other on; to see them battle for their characters’ power, kindness and self preservation is a treat indeed. Dench gives what may go down in history as her best performance yet (no small feat there) as a prudish English schoolmarm, kindly, she believes, reaching down to befriend the funky young newcomer who looks to need her guidance. Blanchett, as the art teacher with a more complicated family life than she at first betrays, gladly accepts the older woman’s offering. Little does she realize her mentor’s true motivating factors. And little does the more experienced realize what her young friend brings along with for the ride. And what a ride this is. Both women embrace and vie for power, compassion, affirmation and an irresistible touch of gossip. Neither is innocent or hateable. In the capable hands of these two fine actresses, their male co-stars (particularly Bill Nighy) and behind-the-camera team, the two beautifully drawn women are tremendously real and recognizable, whether we (their judging audience) like that or not

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