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NOTES ON A SCANDAL

Director: RICHARD EYRE

U.K. • 2006 • COLOUR • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 91 MIN


A witty, acerbic and entertaining adaptation of Zoe Heller’s novel, What was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal, with a wicked screenplay by playwright Patrick Marber (‘Closer’). Director Richard Eyre (‘Iris’) elicits ripe but riveting performances from Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, in what he calls, ‘a story of friendships and sexual intoxications . . . of two women in the grip of their own self-destructive, uncontrollable passions.’

Judi Dench’s Barbara Covett is a waspish, domineering teacher at a rundown London secondary school: although a self-proclaimed ‘battleaxe’, she is also a sad, lonely and desperate spinster. When attractive, vulnerable art teacher Sheba Hart (Blanchett) joins the staff, Barbara becomes obsessed with the idea of their enjoying a passionate lifelong friendship. When the manipulative, lovelorn Barbara discovers that Sheba is having a reckless sexual affair with one of her 15-year-old pupils, Stephen Connolly (Derry-born actor Andrew Simpson), we expect her to react with jealous spite. Instead, more deviously, she exploits this knowledge to secure Sheba’s conspiratorial acquiescence. ‘Now more than ever,’ she remarks coolly, ‘we are bound by the secrets we share.’

Initially, both Marber’s screenplay and Eyre’s direction struggle with the formal problem set by Heller’s novel, which took the form of a series of jaundiced journal entries by the book’s distinctly unreliable first person narrator, Barbara. Fortunately, the rather relentless voiceover of the first third gives way to a racier, more melodramatic mid-section and a near-Gothic finale. Ratcheting up the tension, Eyre achieves an engrossing mix of thriller-like suspense, complex emotional drama, black humour and wry social observation.—Nigel Floyd.

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