Notes on a Scandal (R)

Drama 98 January 26th, 2007
By Robert Wilonsky
Brilliantly adapted by Patrick Marber from the darkly comic Zoë Heller novel, this is a grim piece of work -- Fatal Attraction for the art-house crowd. It's set in a dreary London, where a gray funk of fog and cigarette smoke hangs over everyone's heads like a gathering storm. Cate Blanchett is a vision in thrift-store duds as Sheba, a well-heeled beauty and art teacher tethered to a frustratingly middle-class life. To fill the void, Sheba heads down a self-destructive path, beginning an affair with a 15-year-old student named Steven (Andrew Simpson) who reminds her of the youth she feels she's squandered. But Steven isn't the only one trying to woo Sheba. A friendless teacher at the school, Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), also covets Sheba and uses her knowledge of the affair to lure Sheba into her comforting arms. Marber, tinkering slightly with Heller's novel, finds greater tragedy in the simple, final ruin created by the keeping and sharing of secrets. Dench appears withered, as though she's decaying from the inside; Blanchett seems to shrink a little bit more from scene to scene. The result is less a cautionary tale than an absolute horror story in which everyone winds up looking like the walking dead.
Richard Eyre Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Andrew Simpson, Phil Davis, Michael Maloney, Juno Temple, Max Lewis, Joanna Scanlan, Julia McKenzie Patrick Marber, Zoe Heller Scott Rudin, Robert Fox Fox Searchlight Pictures