Notes on a Scandal Review: Great Acting, But Nothing Original
by Alex Billington
January 19, 2007
Hidden among the much more publicized films of the Holiday season was an English present-day thriller that revolves around two female characters with vast depth. Notes on a Scandal, directed by Sir Richard Eyre of many British theater productions and TV shows, fulfills a thrill-seeker's every wish and desire but offers few original twists on the well-worn genre.
In Notes on a Scandal, Dame Judi Dench plays Barbara Covett, a lonely veteran schoolteacher who keeps a vivid personal diary. When Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) takes a job teaching art at the school, Covett sees a rare opportunity to make a new friend. When Covett discovers Sheba is having an affair with one of her students, she confronts her and is soon befriended in exchange for her silence, but the tensions begin to wear thin as Sheba experiences further troubles with her own husband (Bill Nighy) and family as well as the persistent sexual-fiend student (Andrew Simpson).
All around, Notes on a Scandal is wonderfully articulate, featuring thrilling visuals and great cinematography that sets the mood and creates incredible tension. The depth of the characters is unbelievably immense thanks to Blanchett's and Dench's truly great performances. Dench was like a sharp thorn on the stem of a rose, waiting to prick you and draw blood as you draw your hand over it. Sharp, brutal lines from Dench's diary are overlaid with a voice-over throughout, adding more intrigue to the film's atmosphere. Bill Nighy gives a fascinating performance which would amaze anyone who recognizes him as a raucous Davy Jones in the 2006 Pirates of the Carribbean sequel. Then the unforgettable Philip Glass brings it all together with a wonderful score that melds perfectly with the intense plot.
Although it is a fine film, Notes on a Scandal followed the rulebook for dramatic filmmaking to a "T" much too closely. Eyre didn't leave any room to explore something new or something outstanding. There isn't anything wrong with this film, but it's just another sex-scandal movie all over again - this time with Dame Judi Dench. However, it's really Dench who is the crazy one, not the seemingly promiscuous Cate Blanchett, and in turn Dench makes up the heart of the story.
Notes on a Scandal has quite a bit of fine filmmaking within it, but the story itself and directing seems like yet another scandalous drama not at all out of the ordinary. Once it finally gets to the end, it's a fueled rampage of fiery rage, and only then worth the price to watch and enjoy, like a good wrestling match or cockfight down in Mexico. However you can pass by Notes on a Scandal without thinking twice unless you want to see an average thriller with good performances from Dame Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, or Bill Nighy.