Notes on a Scandal

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Two days ago, I went to the cinema and saw Hanna. One of the main reasons I did was the fact that Cate Blanchett stars in it. But, coming out of the theater, I was so immensely dissapointed with the movie. I know, everyone's raving about it and it has great ratings practically everywhere. The movie wasn't horrible; I just couldn't get over the way Cate, the great Cate Blanchett, was so underused. She was great in her role, like always, but there was so little screen time and so few characteristics to work with. She was supposed to be mysterious and vague, I know. But I still feel that the director, and probably the writers, did a lousy job when it came to Cate's character.
When I got home, I seriously needed to see a good Cate Blanchett film. So I went and watched 'Notes on a Scandal'. And man, what a movie that was!

The story about a woman whose loneliness drives her to insanity
In the movie we first get to see the sadness that is Barbara Covett's life. Barbara is an unmarried, cynical teacher who is nearing her retirement. She's very unpopular with her students and coworkers as she's a woman of bitter characteristics. She seems like your everyday lonely spinster who's dissapointed with her life and takes it out on the rest of the world, but soon we learn differently. A new teacher comes to work at the school: Sheba Hart. First Barbara restrains herself from this beautiful, charming young woman whom everyone else is in love with. But soon Sheba's kindness breaks her walls down and a silent fascination begins to emerge. Barbara, being the lonely woman that she is, grabs onto this chance of a friend and innocently starts to pursue Sheba more and more. Sheba has an older husband, a teenage daughter and a son with Down's Syndorme. She desperately needs someone to talk to and ends up trusting Barbara.  A friendship starts to form, and an obsession begins. When Barbara discovers a shocking revelation in Sheba's sex life, she recognizes a chance to keep a hold on her by emotional blackmailing. She keeps clawing her way into Sheba's life, all the while deluding herself that they are the greatest of friends.
There is this great scene where Barbara's cat has died, and she comes running in tears, forcing Sheba to choose between comforting her and her son's stage début. When after several threatening comments, Sheba still chooses to go, all hell breaks loose.

I'm ashamed to admit that this is one of the few movies I've seen of Judi Dench. She is downright astonishing. As far as complicated roles go, this is it. First we see her as an unlikeable woman who looks down on everyone. The clichéd mannerisms of this ordinary woman are portrayed terrificly. Then Sheba comes in and the story begins. The immense fascination that Barbara has for Sheba is both frightening and fascinating. At times, you can see her obsession in her eyes, but Dench always reserves Barbara with a pretentious calmth. We hate her, yet we feel sorry for her. She's a woman who has reached the highest level of loneliness and now has found some hope to fill that void. The intense isolation and sad desperation to be Sheba's everything is hard to watch, yet impossible to turn your back to.

Cate's Sheba made quite an impression on me too. Though her character is far less intense, her role was every bit as striking. She seems to have it all: big house, nice family, beauty, charm; but we soon get to know that all of this is pretend. Through a shocking action, it is revealed that Sheba is lonely, hopeless and desperate for attention. I have to say Sheba struck me as a bit naïve. It wasn't until the last minutes that she realized Barbara's true colors. Her subtlety and sheer innocent manners make for a terrific performance.
The last couple of scenes, though, were the breakthrough for Blanchett. All her hopelesness vanishes and makes way for sudden realizations and fueled anger. Her soft side as well as her tough spot; in this movie Cate gives us the best of both worlds.

Wheter it's Cate's or Judi's movie, they're both at the absolute top of their game. They manage to perfectly illustrate the intense fractions and the genuine tender moments of their strange and complex relationship. At times, the weirdly intimate moments between the two women get almost too uncomfortable to watch. And I mean that as a compliment. All as a result of the brilliant acting of two great actresses and the perfect chemistry between them.

The movie is a beautiful portrait of a disturbing relationship. It shows us what loneliness can drive us to, how it can make us do things we never thought we would. Complimeted by two of the best actresses today, Notes on a Scandal is a disturbingly perfect film that you won't soon forget.


Candice Frederick said...

yes!!!! easily my favorite film from both blanchett and davis!

Lesya Khyzhnyak said...

Very good movie.
Great review.

Anonymous said...

I'm pleased you were impressed by Judi Dench's performance here Chelsea, not just because she's a fellow Brit but because she's a mature woman plying her trade in a very youth orientated industry and doing it superbly.
Cate Blanchett is more of an unknown quantity to me as I don't watch a lot of modern films, although funnily enough I did catch her in the latest Indiana Jones film when I was channel hopping last weekend.
At first I didn't realise it was her, with her Russian accent and Mia Wallace wig, but I found her very charismatic and I'm sure if I enjoyed her in a cheesy action flick I'll definitely appreciate seeing her in Notes On A Scandal!

Jack L said...

I've heard great things about this and as I'm a fan of both actresses, I really should check it out!

Very good review!

Chelsea said...

@Paul: I think Blanchett is one of the greatest modern actresses today. You should definetely check out some of her work.

@Lesya: thx :)

@Jack: You really should, it's brilliant!

ELovesMp said...

I've seen that movie a few days ago because of your review : what a drama !

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