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Plot: A veteran high school teacher befriends a younger art teacher, who is having an affair with one of her 15-year-old students. However, her intentions with this new "friend" also go well beyond platonic friendship. Runtime: 92 mins Release Date: 25 Dec 2006
Watching the emotionally intense black comedy, "Notes on a Scandal," you, too, may feel like its main character, Barbara, who reflects in one of her many voice-overs, "The opera has begun and I have a front-row seat." Directed by Richard Eyre "Iris," "Stage Beauty" and the exceptional TV version of "Suddenly, Last Summer" with Maggie Smith and Natasha Richardson , "Notes" bravely wades into modern-day Grand Guignol as the tension between its two female stars heads inevitably toward a showdown.Patrick "Closer" <more>
Marber's melodramatic screenplay cleverly makes use of Barbara's voice-overs as she scribbles in her diary and makes jaded, bitter observations about the world around her. Abundant voice-overs usually point toward shortcomings in a drama, but here they provide irony and serve to enhance the dialog. In her juiciest role since "Mrs Brown," Judi Dench brings an element of sympathy to Barbara, a closeted, self-loathing lesbian school teacher attracted to the new art teacher, Sheba, played by Cate Blanchett. Madly hoping to wrest the heterosexual Sheba from her husband and two children, one of whom has Down Syndrome, Barbara stumbles upon Sheba's sexual dalliance with a 15-year-old student. In a Machiavellian turn, Barbara hopes to manipulate Sheba by maintaining her secret . . . with strings attached. Need I add that all does not go well?In fact, escalating histrionic fireworks ensue. Blanchett holds her own in this emotional and physical battle royal, capping her incredible year 2006 that also included outstanding performances in "Babel" and "The Good German." As Sheba's husband, Richard, Bill Nighy also comes through with a powerhouse performance. The moody score by Philip Glass is icing on the cake.At a tidy 92 minutes, "Notes on a Scandal" is highly concentrated and vivid. The recently announced Golden Globe nominations include Dench, Blanchett and Marber, so we can expect Oscar nods as well.
The Real, As Opposed to the Convenient (by jzappa)
This is a story told through the proper subjective medium, film, with such painful, cynical candor for how Barbara has spent a life disabusing herself of any rose-tinted notion of life or people. The price? Absolute, utter loneliness. The dynamic human images we see our narrated by the day-by-day items in the diary she zealously keeps as a sanctuary, and an affirmation. The movie fixes on acts of indiscretion and disloyalty, entailing not just our scathingly wise narrator and her new teaching colleague Sheba, but Sheba's husband, the headmaster, a teacher infatuated with Sheba, and a <more>
15-year-old student. Each believes their reasons are sincere, but are all entrenched in variations of self-deception. As Barbara says, in one of the most tellingly human things I've ever heard in a movie, "It takes courage to recognize the real as opposed to the convenient."Dench and Blanchett, as Barbara and Sheba, share not only a gift for deep behavioral detail but a skill at withholding or telegraphing charm and beauty, as required. This may be one of the numerous reasons why they're as compelling as they are. It's definitely part of why this is some of their finest work. It's part of the drama's mechanism. Were Sheba not the breed of beauty she is, a naive, impressionable, coddled pixie, then we couldn't appreciate how intensely Barbara wants her. It's not exactly love so much as controlling, envious fixation on Sheba's stunning upper-class ease. And were Barbara not a teakettle of seclusion boiling through decades of disillusionment, we couldn't identify with how distorted the manifestation of that affection becomes.That's the marvel of the movie: It's about the venomous influence of loneliness, viewed through a tale of two people in love. But unfortunately for both, not with one another. Sheba becomes smitten with a cute but cagey student. Played with what seems like natural hyper-confidence by Andrew Simpson, he sees an occasion in the way she looks at him. She has no clue of how defenseless she truly is. It's not only dishonest and unethical, she tells herself, it's totally ludicrous, but when he cups her face and says, "You're beautiful, Miss," she melts.Barbara, meanwhile, fosters an obsession in her diary, relating thoughts precariously bordering on fantasy. Barbara's seclusion within the school is total, but Sheba is somebody who hasn't experienced her acidity. Barbara can smother someone with good turns and not be rejected. She helps Sheba win control of her students. "One soon learns that teaching is crowd control. We're a branch of social services." Sheba asks her to Sunday roast, where Barbara describes Sheba's family with characteristically rancorous humor. Dench's delivery of these delectably spiteful lines is an triumph in vocal meticulousness and tone that is its own prize. Even when this apparent ice queen drops minute words of vulnerability like "Is that why she hasn't returned my calls?" there's an extra intensity in how strongly we can all relate to the insecurities of her inner voice.There are giftedly handled, extraordinarily candid scenes of rage, humiliation and disgrace, and cruel physical and emotional clashes of immense force. The teachers are somewhat caricatured, but that's because they're filtered through Barbara's misanthropic viewpoint. If it's her omniscient voice we're hearing, it's through her omniscient eyes we're seeing what she describes, and it's the figures who allow her access to their humanity who have profundity and delicacy in their depictions. A wholly earnest Dench brings to Barbara that frigid reserve that's somehow one with a despairing need for consolation and affection. Early on, Sheba is basically an alluring figurine, watched from afar. When our voyeuristic chronicler discovers Sheba's business with the student, Sheba grows immense dimension.We start to see Sheba's own manner of advantaged lonesomeness or just tedium. "Marriage, kids, it's wonderful," she presumingly explains, "but it doesn't give you meaning." Blanchett brilliantly uses her character's advantages to betray her. The grim lesson she's about to learn from Barbara seems belated, even valuable. People like Sheba, according to Barbara, and I'm sure you'll agree, think they know loneliness, but they know nothing of planning one's whole weekend around a laundry errand, or being so continually untouched that the inadvertent sweep of a stranger's hand ignites years of sexual longing.What I adore about the film is this discerningly intricate moral kaleidoscope weaved in completely modern domestic terms. It's going on in your neighborhood, not just Islington. There are scandals like this every year, and we dismissively conjecture from what little we gather. The cunning concept here is that we're seeing it through the sieve of Barbara, and whose transgressions transcend contemporary know-it-all assumptions.
Every film should aspire to be as satisfying as this one is - on every level, and there are so many layers to it all. Nothing is as it appears and the film unwinds in the form of comments and voice-overs from the many journals of the protagonist.Judi Dench, yet again, sinks her teeth into the part of Barbara Covett, a cynical and acerbic history teacher putting in time in an inner city school.Enter Cate Blanchett, playing Sheba Hart, the new art teacher, fragile, naive, innocent and hopeful. Or is she? Barbara quickly ensconces herself into Sheba's life, becoming confidante and friend.And <more>
then the plot thickens and assumes the intensity of a thriller as Sheba's life starts to fall apart, secretly abetted by Barbara. The tension does not let up until the very last frame and the viewer is never quite sure where this ride is going.Sheba and Barbara are very alike at their cores, there is a fragile 'fatal attraction' theme running through their relationship, shadowed by Sheba's impossible affair with a fifteen year old boy which is in turn shadowed by her Down's Syndrome son who is of an age with her student, and again this is shadowed by her daughter's coming of age love troubles and overall the shadow of her own marriage to a much older man, who left his wife and children for her teenage self. I found all of these themes winding again and again throughout the film. The characters are fully rounded and indeed are also shown happy in the bosoms of their individual families but with a distance portrayed as if they are never quite sure of their places within them - always a distraction and secrets.Barbara has her shadows too and they start to trickle through and become more vocalized and by others, as the stories unfold.Enough said without spoilers. Bill Nighy, as Sheba's husband ably enhances the two astonishing performances of the female leads.Movie making at its finest. This is being shown in two theatres in the same complex where I saw it and both were packed. It is very heartening to see a character driven and challenging movie being so popular.10 out of 10. Superlative, down to the music by Philip Glass.
State of the art acting by Dench, Blanchett and Nighy (by fmoramar)
What a treat to watch three of the best actors of our time in the same movie! Judy Dench is an international treasure; Cate Blanchett never looked better or created a more compelling character in any of her other movies, and I had the good fortune to discover Bill Nighy on Broadway in "The Vertical Hour" with Julianne Moore the night before I saw "Notes from a Scandal," and I now want to see everything he's done. A superlative creator of character. "Notes from a Scandal" tells us a lot about the "British" penchant for relishing "scandals" <more>
they invented the tabloid press and also about the odd, intersecting relationships that have become a nearly commonplace reality in the contemporary world. Both Blanchett and Dench as Sheba and Barbara teach at the same Islington secondary school. And both, in very different ways, embark on "inappropriate" relationships that create turmoil in their lives and the lives of their community. Judy Dench conveys the desperate loneliness of her character's life and a remarkable scene of her smoking a cigarette in a bathtub conveys the distinction between her kind of loneliness--an older, unattractive, single woman with no real connections in life--and the more endurable kinds of loneliness that many of us share. This is a gripping film that moves crisply from one scene to the next, missing only a very few beats along the way. A must see.
NOTES ON A SCANDAL is a Judi Dench "triumph" of brilliant wit, pain and a satanic passion for a woman out of reach in Cate Blanchett. Her "Judas" to her supposed friend and fellow teacher is an acting performance which will land Ms. Dench right back in "Oscar country". Too bad it is in the same year as Helen Mirren's magnificent "Queen" as Dench gives a show here in NOTES ON A SCANDAL that leaves you quite breathless to the last and final scene and fade out.Patrick Marber delivers a deliciously wicked, witty and crisply written script in NOTES, and <more>
it only enhances his reputation for giving an audience a story well developed and with characters that you can't take your eyes off on the screen. His writing in CLOSER was so brilliant and clever, but in NOTES ON A SCANDAL he hands Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett words that are zingers and with a strong blend of anger, pain and humor. Please, Patrick, gives us another film quickly! The "teacher/student" romance was well developed and the chemistry between the two actors was believable and very sexual, and one could understand the youthful passion delivered by a young man with a strong mind and body. I did at times have to listen carefully to the young actor's lines, but he delivered them like a pro.In the weeks ahead, I anticipate a "roar from the crowd" for this very dark and witty Judi Dench performance and who knows, she may upset "The Crown" in the end come Oscar time.
"Notes On a Scandal": Judi Dench as Bloodsucking Fiend. (by Jallipoli)
A little-known fact about Araneae Arachidna, uncommonly known as the common spider: Only their nimble poise keeps them from tumbling into their webs. The slightest slip, the merest topple, and they'd be in as wretched a condition as the bloodless husks that litter their tacky lairs. In "Notes On a Scandal," which enjoyed a limited release on Dec. 25 , this delicate mean is most graphically illustrated in London schoolmarm, Barbara Covett note the last name , whose rule in the classroom is adamantine, but whose grasp of words like "friend," "secret" and <more>
"love affair" are as tenuous as spider silk.Dame Judi Dench's Covett is a history teacher in a British school that makes the one in "Saint Clara" look like an accounting firm made over by the Body Snatchers. Vicious football hooligans and wanton almost-women abound, "the future plumbers and shop clerks," in Covett's acid baroque. The teachers crouch in the gymnatorium, trading term reports, like beleaguered generals in the trenches. Covett's is the most succinct: Her classes are "below the National Average, but above the level of catastrophe. Recommendation: No change necessary." But no matter how we try to keep things status quo, change has a way of sluicing in through the cracks. At the start of the Fall term, change waltzes into Dench's life in the liquid form of new art teacher, Sheba Hart Cate Blanchett , who is as lovely as an Elf and her namesake together, but as free as a Hobbit, particularly about the loins, which she can't seem to stop airing out around a treacherously-charming 15-year-old, Steven Connolly Andrew Simpson , who is determined to pluck this Bohemian rose by means artful and sincere.When Covett catches a sensuous eyeful of the twosome during a Christmas pageant, this starchy spider sees an opportunity to cinch her snare shut. She takes Hart into her confidence, promising not to tell for the sake of Hart, Connolly and the school not to mention Covett's icy groin . Soon Covett is insinuating herself into the family life of her supple obsession, appearing at every lunch, outing and inning , like some incestuous mother-in-law. Hart's family consists of a drolly self-amused husband Bill Nighy , a teenage melancholic daughter Juno Temple and a son who suffers from Down's Syndrome Max Lewis , whom Covett regards as a flimsy gauntlet between her heart and Hart.When she's not haunting the Harts' steps, like an insufferably-haughty shadow, Covett can be found out at her meticulously-clutter-free abode, adorning her diary with gold stars and musing about everything from lasagna, to the "pubescent proles," to her only true friend in the world: her dying cat, an uncanny doppelganger of Mrs. Norris, Filch's feline in the Harry Potter movies.Of course, everything falls apart spectacularly in the third act, with everyone's gory doings blared across every tube and telly from Bath to Birmingham. But what's even more amazing is the way everything falls back together in the end. There are the wounds that cleave, yes, and those which sew us back more strongly than ever. These are the darling themes of director Richard Eyre, whose previous pairing with Dench was the Alzheimer's weeper, "Iris". Eyre is a fellow who believes---truly believes---in the all-conquering power of love, not as a Disneyfied platitude, but as an attracting force, binding beyond all reason, even when every particle of logic screams, "Resist!" Love is a jigsaw puzzle. Smash it to bits, the pieces will snap themselves back into place snugger than ever."I can't imagine Iris without me, just as I can't imagine myself without Iris!" says John Bayley of his dear heart, and here similar sentiments apply. Even Covett, at the end, finds herself returning to her first love: herself, her solitude in her aloof tower, hurling down snide remarks, like Molotov cocktails. For Eyre, love is a pliant stone; bendable, yes; breakable---never! One of the great charms of "Notes On a Scandal," as with "Iris," is seeing a supremely royal woman behave like an utter slob. In "Iris," we watched the wits of one of the great literary showwomen of our time rust and rot, but oh-so tenderly. Here, we have Dench muttering such crude asides as: "Lasagna doesn't agree with my bowels; I shall eat as little as possible." Another double take-inducing moment has Dench "stroking" Blanchett's arm in ways most titillative. "Did they do this at your other school?" she asks without a wink of shame. The preview crowd I saw this with couldn't stop snorting with disbelief every time Dench opened her mouth, often laughing before she'd even finished her sentences.Stripping the iron mail away from our social betters, revealing their pink backsides---this is where Eyre is at his best. We see Dench not in silk-strewn palaces, but in settings both earthy and beige---in simple windbreakers and cardigans. Scenes of tension are shot with jittery hand-held cameras, stifling intimacy, and every window pane bears a film of damp moulder.These bleak backdrops have a way of humanizing Dench, bringing her down to the contradictions coursing under the crust of the mundane. Dench's Covett has a stalker's knack of deconstructing the simplest gestures---a hair drifting onto her lap, the brushing of a hand---as thunderclaps of loving proclamation. When faced with the ugly contraries real humans are composed of, Covett regards them as base treacheries, then tosses people away, like chipped porcelain. She possesses the kind of idealism only a rapist enjoys. Anyone who falls short is cut off, like a gangrenous limb. But witnessing this, we come to realize Covett is her own worst victim. She's doomed to live in a world which falls forever short of her expectations. In other words, she's human. We pity her.
Instead of becoming the tawdry, salacious affair it could've easily been, two masterful and textured performances from two of our greatest actresses catapult "Notes on a Scandal" to the echelon of art-house entertainment. In one corner, we have Dame Judi Dench as the lonely schoolmarm and mentor. In the other corner, we have Cate Blanchett as the flighty but endearing new art teacher just begging for someone to take her under their wing. The film starts innocuously enough, with the two women becoming fast friends, with Blanchett inviting Dench into her home and family, and Dench <more>
all too eager to find a new best friend. Deliciously seasoned with spicy subtexts involving the bourgeois sense of entitlement, the bitterness of the lower middle class, the candidness of those with everything who never seem to be satisfied, the resentment of those sucked into this confidence, and of course, the psycho-sexual entrapments of all relationships, "Notes on a Scandal" is rife with everyday tragedy. The convoluted subtexts often take precedence over what is being seen on screen, until Dench's voice-over entrances us and sucks us in.In the early scenes where Dench is describing her burgeoning fascination with Blanchett, the audience shares in the allure as Dench paints beautifully the appeal of Blanchett's talents as an actress. Soon, though, the fantasy makes way for reality, and Blanchett as raw and vulnerable as she has ever been falls under the spell of a troubled 15 year-old boy with whom she begins an illicit affair. Blanchett's folly is mirrored in Dench's obsession with becoming her sole confidant.Director Richard Eyre who previously directed Dench in the superb "Iris" structures the film in a crisp clip. As the plot quickly goes through the motions, secrets are revealed, true natures are uncovered, and the lives of both women become tragically entangled as they unravel.Enough can't be said about Dench's mastering of the thespian art form. She could've easily dived head first into this role and delivered something akin to Kathy Bates turn as the mad spinster in "Misery." Instead, she adds subtlety, humor, and melancholy in her perfectly balanced performance that allows you to sympathize with her character for the loneliness she feels while at the same time hating her for her opportunism and bitterness.Likewise, Blanchett, manages to play to our sympathies, and it's easy to see why Dench, the boy in question, and Blanchett's husband a shockingly good Bill Nighy , are completely smitten with her despite her impetuousness.With betrayal leading to hatred and a complete breakdown of all things sacred in human connections, the climactic showdown between The Dame and The Cate is the type of goose-bump inducing acting tour de force moviegoers dream about. There's also a sense of a symbolic passing of the torch from one generation of great actresses to the next. Far from being just the highbrow version of "Single White Female," "Notes on a Scandal" entertains and provokes those willing to enjoy the psychologically complex roller coaster.
I saw this movie at a special screening in Hollywood. Philip Glass's score is absolutely brilliant better than The Illusionist . Both Cate and Judi give mesmerizing performances and the main kid is very good as well. I found this movie highly disturbing and although it was well done and very clever, it left a bad taste in my mouth. In terms of Oscars, I would give Judi a nomination and Mr. Glass, but that's about it. I guess in terms of personal taste, this was not my kind of plot line, but I must admit I was interested in what was going to happen next the whole time. The characters <more>
became very alive for me. So, all in all a very good film, but not great. The main problem for me was the touchy subject matter. At times it even became ridiculous. I'm not sure if this was the story's fault or the director's, but there was an element of absurdity to moments of the piece which actually made the film less powerful.
minor quibbles aside, this is one of the sharpest tragic-comedies this year, certainly regarding obsession and psychological mind-games (by Quinoa1984)
Rarely have I seen Dame Judi Dench on top of her game as with Notes on a Scandal. She's usually a good show in any film she's in, but here she's perfect for the role of Barbara, who has been a professional teacher in a high school all her life, and is well respected, but can't seem to get enough of her attachments. There's a first one to a woman we won't see during the course of the film chiefly because she put a retraining order on Barbara , and then enters in Sheba Cate Blanchett, beautiful as ever, which may be a small part of the point , who becomes a focal point <more>
of attention for Barbara. And then when she discovers a terrible secret regarding her new 'friend'- an affair Sheba's having with one of her 15 year old students- there's a subtle form of blackmail that comes into play, and that becomes a further fantasy in her notebooks. Throughout all of this Dench never breaks from making this a totally believable, broken, but very solid woman who's gone through a life of misery only to want to seek happiness on the other side. One might almost feel sorry for her, in the end, if she wasn't such a dingbat. It might be also my favorite Dench performance I've seen to date albeit I'm not all up on her complete catalog of work . She's not only convincing on the level of the obviousness of her character, vindictive but sweet, sensitive but cunning, and always with that underlying wit that the British have even in the most dire of circumstances, and I couldn't see anyone else playing her after a while.But it's not just her that makes Notes on a Scandal worthwhile. The screenplay by Patrick Marber, from what must be an equally absorbing and humanistic book, is sharp and intelligent in ways that American filmmakers wish they could make mind-f***er movies like today. There's understatement here and there that undercuts some scenes, like when Sheba has to confess to Barbara after being caught with the boy the first time, a very slight tension each knows on each side. And even when things start to get worse and worse, and the truth comes out in the worst way possible not just for Sheba, destroying her family which includes her husband played by the great Bill Nighy and her two dysfunctional children, but for Barbara as well , there's still some glimmers of dark comedy in there, which one might think would be impossible considering the dangerous pit-falls that could come with such topical, practically controversial subject matter. My favorite of this is when Sheba finds out her own darkest secret from Barbara, and inexplicably in her old 80s makeup again no less.Not that I thought the film was without flaws- chiefly that, oddly enough, it wasn't long enough at 90 minutes structurally it ended up working out, but considering how good the characters made the material out to be, I was surprised how quickly Marber and director Eyre got into the affair material , and Phillip Glass's musical accompaniment isn't quite fit with the rest of the material most of the time I was wondering when Errol Morris would show up, truth be told . But I overlook these flaws mostly for the sake of how superlative everything else is done. The performances are all uniformly compelling and with equal measures of understandings in neuroses in one another, and the ending particularly leaves a chilling spell not unlike one found in the Cable Guy. It's probably the best "chick-flick" you haven't yet seen this year.