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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Notes on a Scandal

Richard Eyre’s Notes on a Scandal will leave you feeling unclean enough to go for the soap and the pumice stone in a Chyrsanthemums-style attempt at redemption. I haven’t felt so deliciously filthy in a movie theatre since that midnight showing of Caligula I saw last year. Unlike The Chrysanthemums however, Notes on a Scandal, is less about what makes an unhappy marriage and more about the qualities and consequences of toxic friendship. The unhappy marriage in question is the unlikely one between the young, beautiful, liberated art teacher Bathsheba (Cate Blanchett) and the stable, boring, “crumbling patriarch” Richard (Bill Nighy). Desperate for something different, Sheba stupidly engages in an illicit love affair with one of her fifteen-year-old pupils. She runs into a bit of trouble when a coworker named Barbara (Judi Dench) discovers the affair and decides to use it to lure Bathsheba into an intense, unhealthy friendship. Notes on a Scandal is based on Zoe Heller’s novel of the same name. I have to admit that I have not yet read the book, so I cannot say whether or not the film does it justice. Given the fact that I was completely and utterly spellbound for the film’s entire ninety minutes, however, I suspect that it does.

A lesser actor might have easily taken the character of Barbara way over the top. Judi Dench’s performance, however, is perfectly chilling and terrifyingly real. Anyone who has ever been stuck in a toxic relationship will be able to identify with Sheba. Barbara is two parts Iago, one part Marquise de Merteuil, and one hundred percent pure evil. Cate Blanchett, as usual, delivers a natural and complex performance as Sheba. Sometimes sympathetic, often reprehensible, Sheba is one of the most believable desperate wives I have seen on the screen in a long time.

Richard Eyre, who directed the heartbreaking 2001 film Iris and the underrated 2004 film Stage Beauty, has a real knack for portraying complex family dynamics in a simple, subtle way. The screenplay, adapted by Patrick Marber, is absolutely perfect. Narrative from the book is elegantly and sparingly incorporated in voiceover, a technique that often feels trite but which seems right at home here. Mr. Marber is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Although he is up against Sacha Baron Cohen and Alfonso Cuaron, I think he should get it.

The amount of money I would pay to see this film: $9


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