New York Magazine


Notes on a Scandal
  Release Date: 01/26/07 (Future Release)

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Andrew Simpson, Phil Davis

Director: Richard Eyre

Rating: (R)
  Running Time
  98 min
  Fox Searchlight Pictures
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As Barbara Covett, the diarist narrator of the deliciously overripe psychodrama Notes on a Scandal, Judi Dench regards the world with pruney disdain—with pursed, shriveled lips and a tongue always poised to deliver acid rejoinders. But on the inside, this little gargoyle is roiling with passions—and ever in search of a female soul mate. She’s certain she has found one in Sheba (short for Bathsheba), the new art instructor at the London high school where she teaches and played by a blonde Cate Blanchett, who is airy yet ripe, breathtakingly beautiful yet somehow unfinished: tantalizing prey. When Barbara spies Sheba going down on a 15-year-old student, she knows she has a royal road into the young woman’s confidences.

The film, directed by Richard Eyre and written by Patrick Marber (from a book by ZoŽ Heller), does nothing to soften Barbara’s monstrous narcissism, which borders, at times, on the delusional. And yet she is, as they say, quite a character. Her stratagems, heard in voice-over (“She has nowhere to turn but trusty old Barb”), would make Richard III smile approvingly, and when her emotions are aroused she’s a banshee—she’s feral. It’s appalling to watch the trap close on Sheba, who is married to a much older man (the delightful Bill Nighy) and has two children, one with Down syndrome. She’s self-destructing anyway—she feels smothered by her life (full of love as it is). When she tells her new friend “family doesn’t give you meaning, it gives you an imperative,” Barbara doesn’t hear that as the cry of a disturbed young woman but as an invitation to liberate her.

Notes on a Scandal is another squirm-und-drang movie: too creepy-sad to be a comedy, too intense to watch quietly, without letting out frequent whoops. The score, by Philip Glass, is a study in egregiousness—the usual busy undercurrents with a top layer of bombast. But it does suggest something of Barbara’s turbulent inner life, and it gives the picture momentum. Anyone who has ever felt possessive about a friend will recognize him- or herself in Barbara Covett’s covetousness. And anyone who loves live-wire acting will gasp in awe at Blanchett, more emotionally exposed than ever, and, most of all, at Dame Judi, who’s so electric she makes you quiver. —Reviewed by David Edelstein, New York Magazine