Director: Richard Eyre
Stars: Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Andrew Simpson
Er, wow. This film was… something. Not too intense, not at all confusing (plot-wise), not visually stunning. But nevertheless, wow. I’m still reeling.
As this film is based on a novel (of the same name, by Zoë Heller), I’m going to have to try not to be too critical of the storyline, as the filmmakers didn’t pick it themselves (well, they kind of did but you know what I mean). I haven’t read the book, but I’ll inevitably seek it out eventually (back of the line, lady).
Judi Dench produce a superb (Academy Award-nominated) performance as Barbara, a teacher nearing retirement who is also apparently insane. She befriends the new arrival to the teaching staff, Sheba (Blanchett, in another Oscar-nominated outing) and soon becomes acquainted with her family. Sheba is married to an older man (Bill Nighy), who was a university lecturer who left his first wife for Sheba, one of his students. Bash, as she is known to her family, begins an affair with a (frankly awful) fifteen-year-old student, risking her career and life with her husband and children, teenaged Polly and Ben, who has Down Syndrome. This is shortly discovered by Barbara, and she spots the perfect opportunity to… let’s say “get closer” to the BFF she’s always wanted but always somehow struggled to come by with her flowering personality and natural charm. Trying not to give away too much of the plot, it turns out how you might expect, although there are certainly twists along the way.
It’s more than worth a watch, as the cast all generate stellar performances to bring to life a story which is perhaps too believable, almost to the point of predictable. Notes on a Scandal is certainly a film made by its performances; Dench is the obvious highlight, and is far too convincing as a borderline-psychopathic friendless teacher, but Blanchett also impresses and steps down well into the role of a naïve young teacher considering her A-list status. Not a blockbuster by anyone’s standards, but rated well by all and given a good dusting of award nominations (resulting in perhaps unsurprisingly few wins). It’s also a relatively short film, coming in at around an hour and a half, which means it doesn’t drag at all and is easily watchable, unlike some so-called “psychological thrillers” which make an interesting story mundane by slowing it down with unnecessary filler (I’m looking at you, Ordinary People).
It left me asking myself (apparently out loud), “surely there aren’t actually people this crazy?”, and my girlfriend, who is much wiser than I, assuring me that these people do exist. This film scared me. Much more One Hour Photo than The Shining, but entirely worrying. If there are people like this, where are they? How do I avoid them? I’m not afraid of the crazy writer in the abandoned hotel – I’m worried about the elderly lady down the road with only her cat for a companion. One thing’s for sure: I’m never befriending a lonely old lady (again).
My rating: 7.5/10