Movie News and Reviews – Notes On A Scandal

Chris Neefus

Stepping into a screening of Notes on a Scandal was much like stepping into a retirement community. My friend and I plodded up the stage in a pace that wished it could match a snail’s behind a bevy of Judi Dench fans old enough to have parented the Dame themselves. I was bracing myself for 100 minutes of octogenarian entertainment at its stodgy finest. Instead, I was treated with a film that, other than The Queen, was the only one this year to live up to its deafening hype. In any other year, without the cloud of Elizabeth II hanging over the Oscars, Dench would be an easy lock for the Best Actress award while Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy (Love, Actually) bothturn in solid supporting performances.

Scandal is narrated by Dench’s character, Barbara Covett, a self-described “old battle-axe” who teaches history in an English public school. Covett’s life is upended by the arrival of a new art teacher, Sheba Hart (Blanchett), whose felonious transgression fuels the plot. As Covett is the only witness to Hart’s crime, she sees a chance to manipulate the new teacher into keeping her company in her old age. Through her biting, sometimes lewd narration, Covett transforms from outwardly dowdy and unassuming to a wicked, manipulative and, ultimately, pathetic specimen.

In fact, I could tell that all of the geriatrics practically had coronaries when the seventy-two-year-old thespian uttered the first string of four-letter words and sexual innuendos. The emotional blackmail that ensues is mesmerizing as is Dench’s portrayal of a sociopath in denial. Nothing about this borderline-depraved screenplay is predictable, and the scary part is that audience will likely find something to identify with here, be it the manipulative Barbara, the bored wife and mother, Sheba, or the even more bored (and precocious) schoolboy, Steven Connolly.

While Richard Eyre, who also directed Dench to a Best Actress nomination in Iris, is left out of the kudo-fest, screenwriter Patrick Marber and Philip Glass are likely to be on the receiving end of some Oscar love come February 25. If you have time to check out just one film before then, make it Notes on a Scandal.