Tuesday, January 16, 2007

NOTES ON A SCANDAL ultimately disappoints

NOTES ON A SCANDAL is the sort of movie that one feels out to be impressive. Directed by Richard Eyre (IRIS) and adapted for the screen by Patrick Marber (CLOSER) from a novel by Zoe Heller: it is essentially a three-hander between Dame Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy. All three give tremendous and effortless performances. The orchestral score, by Philip Glass, is one of the best I have heard in a long while. In short, the movie is positively dripping in class.

Dench plays a psychologically unhinged closet lesbian called Barbara. She insinuates herself into the life of the beautiful, bohemian, but heterosexual woman called Sheba, played by Blanchett. Blanchett is married to Nighy but is sleeping with her fifteen-year-old student. Once she stumbles upon the scandal, Barbara holds it over Sheba, emotionally blackmailing her into social intimacy. In a superb coup, Barbara moves herself into the position of sole confidante and comes perilously close to her dream of a proper live-in lover.

The movie disappointed me with its rather tired cliches: the evil, vengeful lesbian and the predatory school-teacher. It's like a cross between a Daily Mail headline and Basic Instinct. This isn't helped by the fact that Sheba's motivation for seducing the schoolboy is never really fleshed out. Told in flashback, the affair seems literally incredible. I also didn't know whether the director wanted me to sympathise with Sheba or not. Certainly, the evident youth of the boy makes it clear that Sheba is a criminal. But then again, she gets treated in all other things like a typical Hollywood heroine - to be sympathised with....

All in all, NOTES ON A SCANDAL is a slight film that tries to explore in painful detail the psychological impact of a life of enforced loneliness. Sadly the incredible rendering of the scandal undercuts the attempted psychological realism. The odd spitefully funny one-liner doesn't make up for this.

NOTES ON A SCANDAL is already on limited release in the US. It opens in the UK on Feb 2nd, in Australia, Italy and Sweden on the 16th and in Argentina, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Norway on the 23rd. It opens in Belgium, France, Span and Venezuela on March 16th.

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