For starters, you have Dame Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, arguably two of our finest actresses, in remarkably rich roles, giving stunningly complex performances that will undoubtedly enhance their already exceptional track records. And, both actresses are fast out of the gate in Notes, and keep up an exhilarating, lightening paced race of wits until the films conclusion.
Dench and Blanchett play two very different women teaching colleagues at the same school whose lives become untangled in unholy, unhealthy ways. Spinster Barbara Covett (Dench), the aging and embittered veteran history teacher with lesbian tendencies, befriends Sheba Hart, the novice art teacher whose free spirit, good looks and openness attract the attention of colleagues and students alike. The emotionally unstable Sheba foolishly confides in Barbara about her unhappy marriage and other insecurities. Barbara obsesses about her friendship with Sheba and, like some Machiavellian black widow spider, weaves a web of entrapping intrigue around her. When Barbara discovers that Shebas having sex with a student the horny and manipulative fifteen-year-old Stephen (Andrew Simpson) she has Sheba inextricably ensnared and begins to feed off her, draining her emotions, hopes and quality of life.
Dench and Blanchett manage to make you understand and even like two characters whose behavior is essentially reprehensible. Their enjoyable meanness and corruption are your guilty pleasures. And, the credibility of their performances will make you reexamine your take on similar scandals that have played out in the media. Notes On A Scandal tops the list of 2006 releases Little Children, Venus, Half Nelson, History Boys, among them that explore and illuminate the sorts of challenging relationships that are oft-hidden, oft-denied in our society.
In Notes On A Scandal, the dueling duo of actresses are given all the necessary props to support their game. Patrick Marbers flawless script, based on Zoe Hellers novel, lays bare the psyches of these characters their human frailties, selfish instincts and their capacity for maliciousness in their scheming. Throughout, Marbers true to the ironic wit of Hellers novel, but the films ending is different, so dont think you know it all if youve read the original.
Kudos to the outstanding supporting cast, with special nods to Bill Nighy as Shebas understatedly upper-crusty, academic older-man husband, and to newcomer Simpson, who stands tall among these more experienced giants and delivers a complex characterization thats essential to the films success.
Sir Richard Eyres direction is so good you almost dont notice it. Theres not one inexplicable turn of dramatic events, not one false camera move, nor continuity problem nor editing gaff to interrupt your entire engagement with story and characters. At times, Philip Glass score may seem a bit insistent, but not sufficiently so to detract from the walloping, solid impact of Notes On A Scandal.