Sunday, 29 June 2008

Notes on a Scandal

I haven’t read Zoe Heller’s book from which Patrick Marber produced the screenplay for the film Notes of a Scandal, though I have read quite a bit of her journalism. The novel was a Man Booker Prize nominee, and the film did well in the Oscar stakes. The success is easy to understand. It’s a psychological suspense story; there is a crime, though it’s a long way short of murder (unless one thinks in metaphorical terms, about the killing of a family), but essentially it’s all about character.

Judi Dench plays Barbara, the dried-up unmarried battleaxe of a teacher at a London comprehensive school. She’s formidable and scary, devoted to her cat and confiding only in her diary. When a new art teacher called Sheba Hart (the utterly gorgeous Cate Blanchett) joins the staff, Barbara is immediately interested. She intervenes when Sheba fails to deal with an altercation between two 15 year old boys, and the two women form a rather strained friendship. Sheba is married (her husband is played by the always excellent Bill Nighy) with two children, a stroppy teenage girl and a 12 year old boy with Down’s Syndrome. She is an excellent parent, but something is lacking in her life. Can Barbara supply it?

The answer is no. Sheba has begun a dangerous relationship with one of the boys in the fight, and when Barbara discovers her pal having sex with him, she is furious. But she decides to turn events to her own advantage, and claim Sheba for herself.

When the relationship runs into trouble (because Sheba is insufficiently sympathetic about the demise of the cat) Barbara extracts a cruel revenge. I felt that at this point, drama turned into melodrama, and the turns of events became increasingly unlikely. But the chilling final scene, although perhaps predictable, lingers in the memory.

I enjoyed this film a lot. It would be worth watching just for the opportunity to contemplate Cate Blanchett - whose performance, I must add, is excellent. But Dame Judi is even better – quite brilliantly sinister, yet vulnerable at the same time. Recommended viewing.

(Incidentally, I've been experiencing various computer problems, which are not yet fully resolved. So if I have overlooked any emails, the chances are that they have not reached me. Sorry.)

4 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I thought this was one of the best movies of that year. Judi Dench is real a match for Cate Blanchett. Both of them able to be pathetic, scary, shrewd in turns.

Juliet said...

I have both the book (two copies, in fact - charity shop bargains, the second purchased through lack of attention to the what was already on the TBR mountain, so a big waste of 20p!) and the DVD, and had resolved not to watch the latter until I'd read the former. You have prompted me to move both much closer to the top of their respective piles!

Martin Edwards said...

If the book's as good as the film, Juliet, you're in for a treat.

monix said...

I recommend reading the book first. The gradual revelation of the characters and their relationships works better in the written word, although the film is excellent and the casting superb.