Notes On A Scandal (2006)

DVD Cover (Fox Searchlight)
Genres: Drama, Melodrama, Psychological Drama
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Richard Eyre Richard Eyre
Judi Dench Judi Dench
Cate Blanchett Cate Blanchett
Tom Georgeson Tom Georgeson
Michael Maloney Michael Maloney
Joanna Scanlan Joanna Scanlan

7.4 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: February 09, 2007
Director Richard Eyre has been on somewhat of a Hollywood hot streak. He's one of those British directors, like Stephen Frears, whose name is not familiar to most moviegoers, though they are responsible for some of the most memorable films of recent memory. In 2001, Eyre directed one of the most beautiful films you're likely to see, "Iris", which won Jim Broadbent an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and gave Dame Judi Dench and Kate Winslet acting nods as well. He followed that up with another winner, the critically acclaimed "Stage Beauty", which starred a phenomenal Billy Crudup alongside Claire Danes and Tom Wilkinson. Eyre has this talent for extracting amazing performances from amazing actors, and that tradition continues with the miraculous little gem, "Notes On A Scandal". Based on a powerful screenplay by Patrick Marber, the playwright who penned "Closer" a few years ago - "Notes On A Scandal" will likely go down as the "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" for the new generation. It's one of those films that will develop a cult following and could potentially even lead to cult status a few years down the road. "Notes On A Scandal" is one of the best films 2006 churned out, and an absolutely marvelous picture.

In a commanding role, Dame Judi Dench stars as Barbara Covett, an instructor at an inner city British high school, where she is seen as the disciplinarian to the students and as just another lonely old spinster by most of the faculty. Her days are spent lecturing disobedient brats in the classroom and her nights are spent tending to her pet and only friend, a cat. One day, however, things change when a lovely new art teacher, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) moves into town, catching Barbara's eye and opening a Pandora's box of emotions for the old school marm. The character of Barbara narrates the entire film, and we see how quickly she grows attached to young women when they arrive at the school, and we watch as Barbara brilliantly sneaks her way into Sheba's world, manipulating her at every turn. Sheba doesn't even know if she wants to be a teacher. Her husband (Bill Nighy) is older than she is, her daughter is overly rebellious, and her son has down syndrome, and she's really just teaching as en escape. When Barbara catches Sheba having an affair with a 15-year-old student, Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson), she basically uses her knowledge to blackmail Sheba into being her constant companion and friend, with Sheba not really catching on that Barbara's feelings go far beyond the feelings of friendship.

This is, without a doubt, the best screenplay of the year. Patrick Marber's words crackle with energy and authenticity. Barbara narrates her own story with quick-wit, accuracy and sorrow. The Oscar worthy score by Philip Glass plays throughout the entire film, and it matches the mood and the feel of the film perfectly. It is also probably the best original score of the year, hands down. Director Richard Eyre takes a very simple approach to this picture, much like he did with "Iris", and it pays off yet again. The camera work is very rugged and very real - it reminded me, at times, of the camera-work you might see in "The Squid & The Whale" or a Wes Anderson picture. The pace of the film is kinetic, and at just over ninety minutes, this film packs in everything it needs to with a nice little bow on top. Isn't it nice when a filmmaker can deliver the total package without an extra thirty minutes of superfluous cinematic garbage? Isn't it nice when a filmmaker trusts his audience to make assumptions and conclusions without force-feeding them down our throats?

Both Dame Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett are nominated for acting Oscars, and both nominations are worthy, thought I highly doubt either will win, which is a shame. Once again, Judi Dench delivers the best performance of her illustrious career as Barbara, one of the most miserable and complex characters you'll ever see on screen. Sometimes we want to run up to her and give her an enormous hug, and other times we want to ram a stake into her heart to end her wickedness. Dench feeds off those mixed feelings. Cate Blanchett, as always, is as lovely as ever, and she just seems at home in this role - very free spirited and very on task. I maintain my position than Cate Blanchett is an updated version of Meryl Streep - not a better version, just an updated one. Newcomer Andrew Simpson provided some nice support as Sheba's young lover, but it is Bill Nighy who really uses his few scenes to create one hell of a dynamic character. He has a couple of scene in this film where he just stops acting completely and totally immerses himself in the moment.

In conclusion, "Notes On A Scandal" is a must-see for anyone who wants a thoroughly entertaining cinematic experience. The film is funny, sad, frightening and even a little mysterious. It has elements from several different genres, and it manages to do this in under two hours, and these days, that is an accomplishment in itself. Let me once again mention the haunting score by Philip Glass, which really serves as the backdrop for this entire film. I would highly recommend Dame Judi Dench take home the Best Actress Oscar for this performance - I am sure Helen Mirren is just fine in "The Queen" and probably deserves it too, but that performance is more imitation than anything else. This performance is on fire, plain and simple. "Notes On A Scandal" should be playing at a theatre near you, and you can't watch the Oscars without seeing this picture first.

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