I don't know how I missed this one in theaters, but when Notes on a Scandal came out on DVD a couple of weeks ago, I quickly rented it to see for myself just how campy and trash-tastic it was made out to be. Don't worry- I wasn't disappointed and neither will you. Notes is definitely campy but it's actually a pretty well made film that rises above the cliched plot that could have hindered it.
Dame Judi Dench is brilliant as lonely spinster teacher Barbara Covett. If you thought Dench couldn't be any more intimidating than she was in Casino Royale and Pride & Prejudice, you would be dead wrong. Just look at this shot from the beginning of the film where she stares down her students after the bell rings and they start leaving without being dismissed.
Chilly. I'm scared just looking at it. Imagine being one of those students and having someone like the Dame as your teacher. I think I just peed my pants.
A new teacher named Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) is introduced to the staff and at first Barbara can't figure her out. One of the best lines in the film is when she writes in her diary, "Is she a sphinx, or simply stupid." Barbara is perplexed by her and it seems that she wants to find out more about her. So when Sheba invites Barbara over to her house for lunch and Sheba starts spilling her guts out (as, when Barbara puts it, women of her class are prone to do) Barbara sinks her claws in.
Soon, Barbara uncovers a dark secret of Sheba's: she is having an affair with a 15-year old student. At first Barbara is hurt that Sheba wouldn't confide this to her, but she soon realizes that she basically owns Sheba now. Out of "friendship", Barbara keeps this secret to herself, but insists that Sheba ends the affair.
Naturally, the affair doesn't end and, feeling betrayed, Barbara is forced to unearth this scandal, leading to an explosive, camp-tastic finale. This is where Blanchett as Sheba finally comes alive, applying thick, dark eyeliner, smacking Barbara around and finally releasing that battle cry of "HERE I AM!" It's a golden moment and one of the most memorable of 2006.
Dench is brilliant and Blanchett, while not as good, is clearly having a ball and deserves major camp kudos for her confrontation of Barbara. Notes on a Scandal is not a great film in the manner of Brokeback Mountain or The Departed, but it is one hell of a good time and one of the most interesting movies of 2006.
My Rating: **** 1/2