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.
The bitter, cynical and lonely Barbara Covett is a tough and conservative teacher, near to retirement, who is loathed by her colleagues and students. In the loneliness of her apartment, she spends her spare time writing her journal, taking care of her old cat Portia and missing her special friend Jennifer Dodd. When Sheba Hart joins the high-school as the new art teacher, Barbara dedicates her attention to the newcomer, writing sharp and unpleasant comments about her behavior and clothes. When Barbara helps Sheba in a difficult situation with two students, the grateful Sheba invites her to have lunch with her family. Sheba introduces her husband and former professor Richard Hart, who is about twenty years older than she; her rebellious teenager daughter Polly; and her son Ben that has Down's Syndrome. Barbara becomes close to Sheba, but when she accidentally discovers that Sheba is having an affair with the fifteen year-old student Steven Connolly, Barbara sees the chance to ... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When Barbara has had her meeting with the headmaster at which he reveals what he knows about her stalking of Jennifer Dodd, she throws up in a school toilet. In the background, on the wall, is written the graffiti: "Babs Covett = nasty old lezza. I want to lick her mangy twat." See more »
When Sheba goes up to her daughter's bedroom, she is listening to music on headphones, which disappear too quickly between shots. See more »
[voiceover of Barbara writing in her diary]
People trust me with their secrets. But who do I trust with mine? You, only you.
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Written by Toots Hibbert (as Frederick Hibbert)
Performed by Toots & The Maytals (as Toots and the Maytals)
Produced by Leslie Kong
Reproduced by kind permission of Blue Mountain Music Ltd.
Administered by Fairwood Music (UK) Ltd. (c) 1971
Courtesy of Universal-Island Records Ltd.
Under licence from Universal Music Operations Ltd.
Courtesy of D&F Music Frederick Hibbert See more »
An excellent script is topped only by brilliant performances from Dench and Blanchett
Right after I saw the trailer for Notes on a Scandal late last year, I knew it was going to be a good movie. I also knew that Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett were destined for Oscar nominations. Sure enough, the film got rave reviews and the two actresses popped up on the Oscar ballot. Going two for two cannot be a bad thing, but I never got a chance to see the movie until now. And I was very impressed.
The film tells the story of Barbara Covett (Dench), a teacher at a local high school who is melancholic and just about ready to retire. She longs to find someone to love and to love her back. As she enters into the first day of school, she comes across the new art teacher, Sheba Hart (Blanchett), who she becomes attracted to almost instantaneously. But as she gets closer to Hart, she uncovers a rather alarming secret that may prove to be of good use to her.
Yes, by now most people should know which secret I am referring to. But as the explanation unfolds no more than twenty minutes into the film, the after effects of hearing it are still as shocking as before you knew it.
The grim picture of blackmail, deceit and sexual perversion that unfolds during the movie is nothing short of excellent. The story is very well written, and is even better narrated by Dench through her character's diary writing during the film. The bold language conveyed may be a little much to take at first, but it really makes the unnerving experience all the better. Not to mention the fact that such a dark film, the settings and images are pretty gloomy as well. The ruminating score is also very well done, and really makes many of the scenes all the stronger than they already are.
Another significant element to the film is the language mentioned earlier. At once, it is saucy, enigmatic and witty. Listening to these characters talk is like reading poetry. It is well-versed, and almost comes off like a brilliant play (it helps that it was adapted by a playwright). The language is not just higher-up sounding because it is British; it is because the film is deeply indebted to the academics. Yes, this may just be a very around-the-bit way of saying everyone in the film is a snob, but they are not. They are just very polished and intelligent.
The film more than belongs to Dench. She always acts at the most illustrious of levels. But here, she is at her absolutely best, or at least, from what I have ever seen her do. Her scheming and brooding performance as a hell-bent lesbian is simply astonishing. She brings flavour to every scene, and her emotional range is just off the charts. It is very candid in some ways, and a very honest portrayal of someone who just wants to be loved. Her character is really a ticking time bomb. At many moments, she is very restrained and holding back (in a good way mind you). But in others, she really gets going, and more than just blows up. She ignites and lights up the screen in a way that only the older British actresses can. After seeing such a dazzling performance from Helen Mirren in The Queen, and a downright wicked Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, I was not expecting another performance to be more than deserving of an Oscar. But Dench hits this out of the park, and more than deserved her nomination.
Much the same goes for Blanchett. Although she brought all that she could to Babel, you had to know that she was being very withdrawn from her usual level of intensity. But that is all brought back for her performance here. While she is not nearly as incendiary as Dench, she holds her own and pulls off a hell of a performance. Her emotionally wounded character goes through much of the film as an excuse for disgusted pathos. But as the dust settles, Blanchett really opens up and blossoms into something of an enigma. Is the audience to feel for her, or should we want something bad to happen to her? The character's sinful nature really tests you much the same as the two leads in Hard Candy, and the audience will probably get that double-edged sword of emotions as they watch her on screen. She is very calculating, and she is very strong in her role. And for all of what she has to put up with on screen, I doubt anyone could have pulled off as nearly a strong supporting turn to Dench as Blanchett does.
But where does that leave the rest of the cast then? Overshadowed and underplayed is where. Bill Nighy, a great character actor, is given very little to do but stand and question what is going on around him. You could say that Nighy doing nothing and doing it well is attesting to how great an actor he is. But for a character that should be much more important in the scheme of things, it just comes off as a bit of a disappointment. Much the same goes for the young Andrew Simpson. He is an even more important character, but his great work as a misunderstood juvenile is very unobtrusive. When his character really should do something, he does not, and the audience is left to wonder "what if?"
On the whole, Notes on a Scandal is very well written and brilliantly acted by Dench and Blanchett. It feels like it drags itself along in some scenes and gives very little for any other actor in the film to do, but the two actresses more than make up for it. It is clearly one of the best films of last year, and more than likely, one of the most little seen.
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