Notes on a Scandal (2006)

“People have always trusted me with their secrets.”

In Notes on a Scandal, when an attractive new art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) arrives at a school, her presence causes disturbing ripples amongst the faculty and student population. Sheba’s frail, fey beauty attracts some of the male teachers, and earns her a few friends. An acerbic, friendless older teacher, Barbara Covett (Judi Dench in a splendid performance) becomes a mentor of sorts–or at least the relationship between Sheba and Barbara takes on the appearance of a mentorship. But underneath the surface, darker forces are afoot, and after Barbara discovers that Sheba is indulging in an affair with a young male student, Barbara’s real motivations begin to surface.

I read Zoe Heller’s marvelous novel What was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal and looked forward to the film version. At the same time, this is not a particularly easy novel to translate to the screen since most of the important developments occur in the mind of one of the main protagonists. But I was pleasantly surprised by this adaptation of the novel. Director Richard Eyre teamed with screenwriter Patrick Marber, created a highly entertaining film that manages to convey, quite successfully the personalities of Sheba and Barbara.

Most of the film includes a strong voiceover–excerpts from Barbara’s journals–and it’s through these journal entries that the viewer is privy to Barbara’s innermost twisted, spiteful thoughts. The film’s strong supporting cast adds to the film’s intensity–and especially noteworthy is Sheba’s husband, Richard (Bill Nighy). While some of us will probably not be able to identify with Sheba’s actions, nonetheless, most of us can identity with ill-advised friendships, confidences we later regret, and the belated discovery that sometimes people who appear to seek friendship are not quite what they seem. If you enjoy the film, then read the novel. It’s wickedly good. From director Richard Eyre.

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