Movies / Home Theatre

Notes on a Scandal DVD Review


By Tony Farinella
April 18, 2007 - 00:21

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"Notes on a Scandal" gives new meaning to the words "hot for teacher."  Truth be told, I've never been fortune enough to have a good looking teacher.  Most of my teachers were angry, hostile, and possibly lesbians.  If I had teachers like Cate Blanchett, I might have done a lot better in school.  Sadly, most of my teachers were similar to the Judi Dench character.  Because of this, my grades suffered.  If I only had a teacher like Cate Blanchett, I might have turned out to be a rocket scientist.  While that might be far-fetched, I can dream, can't I?  Nevertheless, I'm a film critic at the end of the day.  If not for my lesbian drama teachers, I might not have turned out to be the cynical and jaded man that I am today.  If that's the case, I should probably thank them.  If I was happy, what fun would I be? With that said, I can't help but yearn for a teacher like Cate Blanchett.  I can't help but yearn for Cate Blanchett. Period.  Before I get any creepier, I should probably talk about the movie.

"Notes on a Scandal" opens up with a voice-over by Barbara Covett, who is played by Judi Dench.  She's a lonely soul who is hated by a lot of the students at her school.  While she's hated, she's also respected because of her stern approach to teaching.  Barbara spends a good portion of her lonely life writing in her journal.  You can think of it as her version of a blog.  She also spends time with her cat.  I take it as a rule of thumb that every lonely woman must have a cat.  It's just the way it is.  You can tell from the start that something is not right about Barbara.  She's not just a lonely woman with a lot of time on her hands.  Something is up with this woman.  This is made clear when Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) starts teaching art at her school.  Barbara starts to view Sheba from a distance at school.  She also writes some nasty things about her in her journal.  This doesn't stop Barbara from pursuing a friendship with Sheba.  After all, she'll take friends any way that she can get them.  Before long, Sheba and Barbara start to become very good friends.

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It doesn't take long for Barbara to pry into Sheba's personal life.  Sheba doesn't help matters by inviting Barbara to dinner at her house.  Barbara discovers that Sheba is married to a man who is twenty years her senior.  She assumes that her husband is her father.  Sheba's husband is played by the very reliable Bill Nighy.  Also, Sheba is the mother of his children.  Sheba's first child is a young boy with Downs Syndrome.  She also has a young 16-year-old daughter, who is overly sexual for her age.  Needless to say, Chris Hansen would probably be showing up to a lot of her hangouts with men.  Barbara is not exactly pleased with Sheba's family.  She sees them as a threat to her time with Sheba.  Sheba's family can sense that Barbara might consider Sheba more than just a friend.  Barbara starts to spend a lot of time around Sheba's family.  It's clear that Sheba is far too trusting of this crazy woman.  This turns out to be a bad idea when Barbara sees Sheba having sex with a young student at school.  Barbara holds this information over Sheba's head.  It's her way of making sure that she stays close to Sheba.

"Notes on a Scandal" features Grade A acting.  The plot is secondary to the fantastic acting by Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench.  It's like watching two great boxers duke it out for fifteen rounds.  You just sit back and enjoy.  Cate Blanchett more than holds her own against Judi Dench. Judi Dench does a skillful job of portraying a woman who is pure evil.  She's not just lonely and looking for friends.  This woman is out for blood.  Before long, it becomes clear what her intentions are with Sheba.  I think we all have had friends like Judi Dench.  The kind of friend who calls you at least fifteen times a day.  If you don't answer your phone, they might even show up to your doorstep.  Thanks to Judi Dench's great performance, you can understand why the Sheba character would fall for someone like this.  Speaking of the Sheba character, she's a woman who is rather naive and clueless.  She's unaware of her own beauty.  The plot works because of the believable performances by Dench and Blanchett.  While the plot works, you mostly watch to see some of the finest acting in the world. While we know Barbara's true intentions, you can easily see why Sheba is unaware of her intentions.  It's sold by the great acting.

Special Features:

Commentary by Director Richard Eyrez:  This is a rather dull commentary track.  I think it would have been interesting to hear from both Blanchett and Dench on this track.  Sadly, we only get the director.  He's not the most exciting guy out there.  I would recommend passing on this commentary track.

Notes On A Scandal: The Story Of Two Obsessions Featurette: This is your standard feature that discusses the making of the film.  This runs at twelve minutes.

Notes On A Scandal: Behind The Scenes Featurette:  This is yet another feature that talks about the making of the film. This runs at five minutes.  This repeats a lot of what was said in the previous feature.

In Character: Cate Blanchett" Featurette:  This feature sits down with Cate Blanchett to describe getting into character.  This runs at only two minutes. 

Exclusive Webisodes:  This can actually be viewed on-line as well.  It features behind the scenes footage of the film.  This runs at thirteen minutes.

Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts: "Notes on a Scandal" was written by Patrick Marber, who also penned "Closer."  He's able to show us ugly, ugly characters in ugly, ugly situations.  Nevertheless, he somehow makes us care about them.  We care about their warped world.  He's also helped by great performances.  In "Closer," he worked with Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Natalie Portman, and Jude Law.  Now, he's working with Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett.  He's a master at writing graphic dialogue for pretty people.  "Notes on a Scandal" proves that acting goes a long way.  I could watch great actors reading out of the phone book.  The film also runs at only ninety-nine minutes.  This is the perfect running time for a film that is heavy on speech.  The pacing is fantastic here. You'll have a trashy good time at this movie.

Grade: A-


Last Updated: September 6, 2021 - 08:15

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