Notes on a Scandal is a drama, bordering on the suspense/thriller genre, directed by Richard Eyre. It is an adaptation of Zoe Heller’s novel of the same title and deals essentially with love, lust, deceit and betrayal.
Patrick Marber, who created the powerful screenplay for Closer, wrote the script and he delivers another piece of fantastic work. The story is narrated through the diary of an old history teacher, Barbara, who has been working at the same British high school for approximately 30 years.
Barbara (Judi Dench) is hard-nosed and feared by the students. Approaching her golden years, she is content with coasting through her days at school, until she meets the new professor, Sheba (Cate Blanchett).
The matron feels a connection with Sheba and wants to continue to get to know her better. When Barbara catches Sheba in an affair with a 15-year-old student, she sees it as a window of opportunity to force tighter bonds with the other woman.
Barbara tells Sheba that she will not go to the authorities as long as she ends her relationship with the teenager immediately. They both agree to the terms and their relationship continues to grow.
Little does Sheba suspect that Barbara suffers from extreme loneliness and is trying to balance her unstable mental state by latching onto the youthful Sheba, who seems to have it all.
The acting in Notes on a Scandal is by far its strongest attribute (in particular, the performance given by Dench). Her character arouses the audience in a spectacular fashion, evoking deep-seated feelings of disgust, anxiety, and empathy.
Judi Dench’s character exhibits a similar mental state to Kathy Bates’ s in Misery. The major difference is that Barbara is more reserved and manipulative and, thus, more psychologically terrifying.
Another high point of this film is the score of Philip Glass (The Illusionist, The Truman Show, and The Thin Blue Line). Some critics say it doesn’t fit the film, but this is certainly not the case.
Philip Glass’s score transforms a bright afternoon in the schoolyard into a frightening experience. His soundtrack pulls all the right strings. He takes ordinary suburban environments, known for their dull predictability, and fills them with the chilling intensity of the story’s narrative.
Overall, Notes on a Scandal is a compelling film that I strongly recommend. The mounting intensity characterizing this 90-minute run makes this film appear startlingly short. Notes on a Scandal is playing at the AMC.