Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"NOTES ON A SCANDAL"

Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Bill Nighy

"One woman's mistake is another's opportunity"





I usually watch films on our DVD player downstairs in the living room but for some strange reason, the disc couldn't be played. So I had no choice but to use my sister's laptop and plop myself in her office chair, instead of being sprawled on the couch.


The movie was engrossing enough so I didn't mind the discomfort. For a film that deals with a grave subject matter (teacher and young student liaison), it had a very subdued and subtle nature. It helps that two (well three if you include Bill Nighy's brief role) of the main characters are portrayed by talented actors who gave formidable performances without resorting to histrionics.


Barbara Covett (Dame Judi Dench) is a prudish old(er) teacher of history while Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) is the new Art teacher. They are complete opposites in every single way.

Sheba displays a bohemian flair with a luminous presence. The wife of a much older man who was her professor in college and mother to a teen aged daughter and a young son with Downs Syndrome. She is effervescent with a friendly smile. A bit vulnerable and seems bored with her cushy little life. A bit overwhelmed by the need to constantly look after her 'special' child. This explains why she gets weak and ends up being seduced by her 15 year old student. There is a part in the film where she justifies the adultery by comparing it as "wanting another drink when you know you shouldn't". It seems like given her background this affair was bound to happen, sooner or later.

Barbara is a typical spinster whose main activity is writing in her diary and looking after her old cat, Portia. I would have to say that she is the more interesting of the two characters. The story is told from Barbara's perspective through her narration of the events which come across as incisive as well as funny. In her diary, she describes a rotund teacher as "pig in knickers". I know it isn't nice to make fun of others but come on we all do it in our heads, we can be brutally insulting about other people's flaws. So to hear several remarks out loud in Barbara's journal entry made me chuckle a few times during the film. She exhibits several flawed characteristics as a person. On the surface, she is a reclusive lonely spinster who develops a dangerous tendency to form delusional attachments with her object du jour. Her need for constant attention evolves into possessive behavior, almost maniacal in nature. She is creepy yet she doesn't seem to acknowledge that fact that she is already fatally obsessed. When Sheba's affair is discovered and she confronts Barbara about the possible consequences. Sheba is distraught and laments "I might go to jail for 2 years", she is devastated. Barbara nonchalantly dismisses it as "It passes by so fast" or words to that effect. That line gave me goosebumps. Deep inside, I see Barbara as a misunderstood spinster who covets (I figured this out - it is like a play on names. Barbara Covett = Barbara covets) companionship. It just so happens that she 'lusts' after women but then she recounts how the brush of the bus conductor's hand against her skin triggered a reaction between her legs so I don't know what to make about that statement. Unless of course, the bus conductor was female but I doubt it. Don't we all long for that? Not that I am justifying her irrational behavior but it just seems fair enough to truly understand where she is coming from and not automatically jump to conclusions without a fair assessment of her personality.


The clandestine encounter between Sheba and her 15 year old student witnessed by Barbara, one evening becomes the main crux of the entire film. The way that Barbara uses the 'affair' to manipulate Sheba's secret to her advantage. The transformation of Sheba from a bored housewife to a sex starved vixen. The effect of the scandalous affair over Sheba's family. The dramatic confrontation scenes all heightened with an intense musical score which can be a bit too loud for my ears. Every angle is explored, poked and exposed to the viewer who can't help but be compelled into the whole gripping intensity of it all. It culminates in a bitter sweet ending which is both satisfactory and wanting at the same time. It is interesting to note that the film is rather short and compact but you feel the definite closure and the characters' acceptance of their fate as sure as the sun will rise from the east.

It is good, the movie was filmed with British actors and not given a Hollywood treatment. It would have turned into a salacious TV film of the week complete with juicy details of the affair dissected to bits and pieces. Regardless to say, Dame Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett gave the film its essence. It says something about an actress (Dame Judi Dench) if she is willing to be filmed without any make up on and looking very stern. If the roles were enacted by less talented artistes, the film would have faltered terribly.


A film adapted from a book by Zoe Heller entitled "What was she thinking: Notes on a Scandal: A Novel" . The movie has all the elements of a good drama. A steady plot, a gloomy cinematography depicting the heavy subject matter, a score that builds up the crescendo and fine acting from two of the best actresses, the Commonwealth (England and Australia) has to offer.

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