Saturday, July 18, 2009

Notes on a Scandal

Just watched Notes on a Scandal, with Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Bill Nighy, and Andrew Simpson. Superb cast, oddball story; very intense, and rich in character detail. Both Dench and Blanchett get plenty of room to draw their characters to the max, the former showing her constant conniving on her face often without saying a word, the latter playing a woman who's foolish, and surprisingly naive. Not only does she have an affair with a 15-year-old pupil (scarily played by Simpson, who was only 17 or 18 when the film was made), but she fails to see how Dench's character is in no way a friend, but only gives the appearance of a friend. Many actresses could have made the character a total fool; Blanchett manages to convince us that this woman's behaviour is possible, and believable.

Dench has often been scary - as M for instance - but this must be Dench at her most subtly vicious. Even her Lady Macbeth from the late 70s isn't a patch on this. And she's allowed herself to be quite ugly, and almost nondescript. The sort of little old(er) lady you'd see pulling along her shopping cart in the supermarket.

In the story Dench is a near-to-retirement teacher who befriends the new art teacher (played by Blanchett) at a large comprehensive school. We gradually learn that Dench has designs for more than friendship and when she discovers Blanchett is having an affair with the pupil, she tells Blanchett that she knows about it, but that she'll keep it secret. Of course, it's a secret she can use against Blanchett in due course, when the latter doesn't play her game. Dench's character narrates a good deal of the story - she writes everything in her diary - and her cyncism about other people, and her sheer callousness (even about Blanchett's Downs Syndrome son) is overwhelming.

Not the most attractive group of characters, but absorbing all the same.
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