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Notes on a Scandal (2006)

Notes on a Scandal (2006)

A wicked psychological thriller told with melodramatic flair, this is an acting masterclass from Judi Dench



United Kingdom, United States of America
English, French
Drama, Romance
Adrian Scarborough, Andrew Simpson, Anne-Marie Duff
92 min


You’ll never be able to see Judi Dench the same again.

What it's about

After discovering her younger colleague has entered into a sexual relationship with a student, a middle-aged high school teacher uses the sordid secret to her own advantage.

The take

Acerbic diary excerpts provide the narration for this taut psychological thriller, but don’t be fooled: as Notes on a Scandal teases, single schoolteacher Barbara (Judi Dench) might not be filling these pages with the truth — at least, not intentionally. There are early tells that she might not be as reliable a narrator as we expect, given her reputation as a no-nonsense battleaxe: for one, her characteristic surliness dissolves alarmingly quickly upon meeting Sheba (Cate Blanchett), an idealistic young art teacher. Notes on a Scandal doesn’t overplay this hand, though: until its explosive climax, the psychological drama is mostly read between the lines, as we watch Barbara enthusiastically pursue a “friendship” with her younger colleague. 

What makes Notes doubly gripping is that Barbara isn’t the only one hiding dark secrets: as she soon discovers, the married Sheba has begun a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student. That disturbing revelation gives Barbara an upper hand, a means of manipulating Sheba into validating her delusions about their relationship. What follows is a gripping twin character study, one that plays out in the heightened realm of a melodrama as their sordid secrets become entwined. Darkly camp and spanning just 92 perfectly paced minutes, this is an intense immersion into two very ugly psyches.

What stands out

It goes without saying that these are very tricky roles to play, but Blanchett and Dench are more than up to the challenge, imbuing their monster-like characters with surprising nuance. Despite Blanchett’s role being the more salacious of the two, it’s Dench’s vindictive schemer who emerges as the most psychologically juicy. With her twisty performance as a sociopath who is, at turns, desperately sympathetic and deeply repellent, the legendary Dame manages to eclipse her brilliant co-star and steal the film.


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