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Notes on a Scandal

April 24, 2013

Notes on a Scandal (2006)
Director: Richard Eyre
Actors: Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Bill Nighy

Notes on a Scandal

Synopsis: Conniving, priggish school matriarch, Barbara (Judi Dench), slowly inveigles her way into the life of the new young art teacher, Sheba (Cate Blanchett). When Barbara becomes privy to a catastrophic mistake by Sheba, she exploits it to get closer to her.

Review: She has been one of the most ubiquitous presences in British cinema over the last fifteen years, a stamp of authenticity for every aspiring period production with her well-reprised patrician persona – that’s not forgetting her contribution to the Bond series as well. It may just be though, that Judi Dench has turned in her most complex and interesting performance for many a year in this fascinatingly atypical role – as a very contemporary and unglamorous inner-city school matriarch.

Although a lot of the machinations of the story spun round Dench are a touch schematic, Dench makes what she can control – the representation of her character – utterly compelling, and offers a transcendent portrait of a sociopathic woman, whose bitter, fantasy-inflected interaction with the outside world is informed by a colossal loneliness and solipsism. Cate Blanchett, though not offering quite the same depth of characterisation as Dench, still provides a watchable performance as Sheba – the lightly narcissistic art teacher, wife and mother-of-two who becomes the object of Barbara’s affection. Though at times the representation of Sheba’s homelife borders on bohemian cliché, in a sense it’s befitting the warped, outsider perspective that the voyeur Barbara accords it.

Naturally the film needs its plot-hook of Sheba sleeping with a schoolboy, and, of course, there comes a time when you have to accept the dramatic world placed in front of you, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that a slightly older and more precociously intelligent boy might have made for a more convincing seducer of Sheba. Also, when the plot becomes more lurid in its final act, the scene where Sheba cracks under the pressures of the press intrusion and her discovery of Barbara’s manipulations – manifesting itself in a primal roar at the paparazzi – seems a touch theatrical. That said, what will endure from this film is Judi Dench’s acting masterclass. (April 2013)

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