Directed by Richard Eyre, Notes on a Scandal is a must-see for those who enjoy a cleverly constructed plot that explores human relationships to the core.
The story follows jaded older teacher Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), who contrives to ensnare young and beautiful new teacher Bathsheba Hart (Cate Blanchett). In the meantime, 15-year old student Steve Connolly (Andrew Simpson) entices Bathsheba into a turbulent affair, while Sheba's husband (Bill Nighy) and children all tear at Sheba's loyalties.
Credible characters fill Patrick Marber's clever script, (from Zoe Heller's novel): the older feeble staff member with vain hopes of attracting the new filly in the staff room, the management-minded headmaster, the happily pregnant young teacher, the unruly and unquenchably energetic pupils in noisy classrooms and playgrounds, in addition to the defiant quips of the teacher past her prime.
The dramatic events found in Notes on a Scandal are impregnated with cohesive symbolic themes, scenes, and characters, ranging from biblical and literary connections (e.g., the choice of the name “Bathsheba”) to mirror images of power relationships (e.g., the older teacher intent on seducing the younger one, while recoiling in horror at similar behavior from her supposed protégée). The superb cast captures unforgettable moments of stillness, allowing us to follow their changing thoughts as they negotiate their way through tumultuous relationships.
Inextricably combined with the action is Philip Glass' excellent score, which reflects the characters' heightened passions and beliefs. At times, Glass' music mixes classical style and form with intriguingly complicit inner themes of darker suspense.
In sum, Notes on a Scandal is a gripping, tightly designed, superbly acted drama that is not to be missed.
Note: A version of this Notes on a Scandal review was initially posted in February 2007.
© Rosemary Westwell
Notes on a Scandal (2006). Dir.: Richard Eyre. Cast: Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Bill Nighy, Andrew Simpson, Phil Davis, Anne-Marie Duff. Scr.: Patrick Marber; from Zoe Heller's novel.
Arts Critic Rosemary Westwell has written for several publications, including “The Independent” and “Musical Opinion.”