Video Vault: Notes on a Scandal

Notes on a Scandal
2006: Richard Eyre
Rated R – 92 minutes
Vault Rating: 7.5
Judi Dench as Barbara Covett
Cate Blanchett as Sheba Hart
Andrew Simpson as Steven Connolly
Bill Nighy as Richard Hart

When a new, pretty, woman first comes to the office, one can watch the ripples in her wake. Heads turn. Glances are exchanged. Delicate conversations perhaps.

One can expect that, before long, certain males shall be found lingering around her work space. Professional and personal bonds can be forged here depending on the advances the new girl decides to entertain.

Cate Blanchett is plopped into the middle of such an environment in today’s Video Vault feature, “Notes on a Scandal.” The setting this time is an English school. And our protagonist is an exotic bird, named in the English lit tradition so as to describe her essence; Sheba Hart.

Likewise, Judi Dench appears as Barbara Covett, the prototypical battle axe schoolmarm who is covetous of a relationship with the luminous Sheba. During this film’s smart set-up we observe Sheba and learn about Barbara through her voiced over journal entries. Thus the film is made secretive and intimate.

Barbara courts this relationship with Sheba as a means to manage her clout in the staff-room and we begin to see similarities in these women. Barbara is old and her life has grown bitter cold. Sheba is married to an older man (Thematically, Rich, or Dick Hart as you wish to read it.), once her teacher, and that relationship is loving, but cooling.

Sheba has been made ripe for her Solomon, but who, in this messy web of desire, shall conquer whom?

Enter, the charming, thick-accented schoolboy, Steven Connolly, who takes little time igniting the match that flares passionately into the scandal of the title. Sheba thus finds herself on the opposite side of a kind of affair that she once knew. And all the while, Barbara Covett watches, telling secrets only in her journals, and waits for the moment when she can best make use of what she knows.

The hand thus dealt is fascinating enough in the way the cards play out, yet “Notes on a Scandal” manages a few surprises that add beautifully to the story.

The film rated four Oscar nominations including Ms. Dench for best actress and Ms. Blanchett for supporting actress. The work between them is impeccable and very much warrants your attention.

This is a terrific small movie. By “small,” I mean that it is economical in its pacing and casting. The cast features a central group of four actors who are so good, you don’t even notice anyone else.

To tell you the truth, it very much puts me in mind of another small movie, “Brimstone & Treacle,” that Sting (The musician who wrote, appropriately in light of today’s column, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.”) made in 1982 with members of the Royal Shakespeare Co. You’d have to see them both to get my meaning without it turning into a whole separate column. The short story, though, is they are both weirdly erotic films dealing with poseurs who insinuate themselves into others’ lives.

And if you can find “Brimstone & Treacle,” let me know. If you can’t, just pick up “Notes on a Scandal.”

Some decent stuff is out on the new release racks today. I’ve been waiting for Guillermo Del Toro’s eerie Oscar winning fantasy “Pan’s Labyrinth.” One of my favorite directors, Darren Aronofsky, has his epic sci-fi romance, “The Fountain,” out today.

We’re told that audiences for “The Fountain” at Cannes actually booed this film. Aronofsky, though, with his prior masterpieces, “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream,” has certainly earned our patience. An interesting war documentary, “The War Tapes,” is out today too. Centering on Iraq, members of the National Guard were given digital video cameras in order to provide their perspective on this complex and troubled conflict.

If you have thoughts you’d like to share with our readers, drop us a line at and we’ll print your comments in the regular Vaultmail.

Until next time … When I swear I will have seen “Dreamgirls…” Enjoy!

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