Monday 11 March 2019

Notes on a Scandal

This British film made in 2006 based on a Zoë Heller novel is a little gem lurking in the back catalogue, which the BBC dust off now and again for an airing - usually in the middle of the night - as it did a couple of weeks ago. I jumped on the opportunity to see this thriller/drama again.

As is often the case with home-grown drama, on the face of it, it's a simple little tale of people doing ordinary things, muddling through life, until someone or something goes wrong, people make poor decisions and, in this case, turn very dark and sinister.

The story is told from the view of an older lady teacher played beautifully by Judi Dench (Iris, Mrs Brown, Chocolat, Bond's M) in a London school, who is a spinster and loves to keep a journal/diary of her everyday life. A record in hundreds of hard-backed books spread over the years. She befriends a new art teacher at the school, who's come to teaching later in life after bring up a child with Down's Syndrome. She is played by Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, The Lord of the Rings, Elizabeth) and again, envelopes the role of the confused artist.

The younger teacher is married to an older man who they've snagged Bill Nighy (Guest House Paradiso, Dad's Army, Love Actually) to perform which, as you'd expect, he does very capably (we love to see the calm exterior blow up into rage now and then!), even though his part is a smaller one. Laying aside the story, the film comes across as an acting masterclass as these three, along with other well know British actors turn the heat up, as things develop in their world, get complicated and challenge each of them. It's an excellent cast, not a poor performance to be seen. Sometimes it's certainly a case of who you don't know from somewhere in a scene!

I really don't want to give anything away, but I can highly recommend a viewing. At times it almost comes across as a low-budget made-for-TV film, which, with a short limited cinema release it may have been, but it's a pure delight to be able to watch these players perform so well. It is obvious that the director Richard Eyre is better known for stage productions, as the claustrophobic nature of the shoot blends with that experience. The sets are tight and I understand that it has also been performed in theatre. The music has been supplied by Philip Glass, composer of hundreds of wonderful film scores and soundtracks. They really seem to have had an open cheque book putting this together, gathering the best of the best.

It's a story that will surprise you as it rolls along, amuse at times, thrill here and there and when the darkness descends and you realise what's what, maybe even give you a little shudder. Judi Dench particularly draws the audience in with her expertise and holds the cast and story together. Seek it out!

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