Movie Reviews
10:30 am
Mon January 8, 2007

Notes on a Scandal

Not much else new here.

Modern transgressive sex is a strange beast, tamer than ever but so many different types. In Richard Eyre's Notes on a Scandal, Cate Blanchett's Sheba Hart is a new art teacher in a Brit private school, where she soon has an affair with a 15 year old student. Enough transgression, you say, until Judi Dench's Barbara Covett, an aging history teacher, finds out about the affair and uses it to get herself as sexually close to Sheba as she can in a blackmail that isn't smooth.

Notes on a Scandal is a cautionary tale about moral anarchy, which has a Biblical quality exacting punishment even in post-modern permissiveness. Sheba has some justification for her transgression because of an older husband devoted to their down-syndrome boy and neglectful of her needs, but the code of ethics between teacher and pupil is not negotiable, as the principals in this soap seem to think.

Dench and Blanchette are delightful to watch although Patrick Marber's dialogue doesn't give them anything fresh to chew on. In fact, despite the incendiary topic, nothing much new is forthcoming, and perhaps it is too much to ask for satisfactory analysis in such a strange world. Sheba is far too attractive to risk her career and family over a pubescent punk, and her affair goes far too long before being discovered. Dench's Barbara is so negative and unattractive that scooping up chicks of Sheba's ilk just doesn't meet the lowest probability index.

What does save the film from oblivion is the performance of two A-list actresses and the nagging implication that society is still a tough judge of activity outside its norms.

Not much else new here.