Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Notes on a Scandal (2006)

My husband brought the DVD home with the warning that Notes on a Scandal was supposed to be an intense and disturbing film. Disturbing it was indeed, but not in the way I thought it would be. I assumed that a plot involving a teacher's "affair" with a teenage pupil would be overwhelmed by the unsavory aspect of that dangerous liaison. While events do turn upon the sordid, ill-fated dalliance, it is shown to be the unappealing result of mental aberration on the part of Cate Blanchett's character "Sheba." Sheba is drawn into the affair because she is basically undisciplined and used to living a free life, although she has tried to be a devoted mother to the best of her ability. But when boredom and unhappiness overwhelm her, she is bereft of resources.

The other dangerous relationship in the film is the emotional obsession that an older teacher, Babara Covett, magnificently played by Judi Dench, develops over Sheba. It reminded me of a saying of St Francis de Sales: "There are many virgins in hell, but there are no humble people in hell." With all the overemphasis on the physical, we forget that there are other sins besides those of the flesh, and that pride and covetousness can also lead a soul down the primrose path. Barbara's determination to monopolize Sheba's affections is in many ways as insidious and dangerous as any carnal misbehavior.

Barbara (Dench) is a dedicated teacher who with one word can restore order in a classroom. Her amazing competence and intellectual superiority lead her to despise the world. She is a misanthrope worthy of Scrooge, yet the witty and brilliant reflections as recorded in her secret diary are chillingly amusing. Unfortunately, she has a habit of forming inordinate attachments to other, younger women, attachments which she erroneously idealizes as being spiritual friendships. True friendship has little to do with it, however. Barbara resents Sheba's family and when Sheba puts her children first, only then does Barbara report Sheba's criminal actions.

Notes on a Scandal is a revealing glimpse into the souls of two women, each narcissistic and possessed by different brands of lust. Rarely has real love been so starkly contrasted with inordinate affections as in director Richard Eyre's modern yet timeless melodrama. Share


Anonymous said...

A very powerful film and a marvelous review. Thanks for that.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank YOU!