The director of Iris and Stage Beauty brings to us a powerfully engaging film, based on the novel by Zoë Heller.
Notes on a Scandal is a film about obsessive friendship, love and power. Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), a lonely veteran schoolteacher, develops an unlikely friendship with the new art teacher, free-spirited Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett). When Barbara discovers Sheba’s affair with a 15 year old student, she uses this potentially damaging situation to her advantage. She promises to keep Sheba’s secret, particularly from Sheba’s husband Richard (Bill Nighy) and their children, only if the affair ends. It’s a promise that Sheba finds difficult to keep. Barbara’s sense of Sheba’s betrayal soon turns into a vengeful ploy to destroy Sheba’s professional and private life with devastating consequences for all.
Throughout the film, we are treated to Barbara’s cynical and sarcastic narration, via her personal diary entries. These illustrate her feelings of loneliness, loyalty and obsessiveness towards Sheba. As Sheba’s situation becomes more dire, we discover that Barbara is not who she appeared to be. Judi Dench gives an outstanding performance as the overpowering Barbara, whose loyalty turns into a spiral of revenge, envy and disaster. Cate Blanchett also performs at her best, as a vulnerable free spirit, whose mistake is turned to another’s advantage.
I totally recommend this movie to anyone who likes suspense and the intensity of the themes of obsession, love and power. Even though Notes on a Scandal touches on the sensitive subject of teacher relationships with underage students, it is interesting to watch as Barbara and Sheba’s friendship develops under the burden of this heavy secret.