This small act triggers a dangerous obsession, which is brilliantly conveyed through the use of narration. In most films narration is a redundant device used by directors who can’t tell a story properly or can’t resist being verbose. But in Notes on a Scandal, Richard Eyre has used it to great dramatic and ironic effect. Barbara narrates events as she records them in her diary, but as the film unfolds we see how the actual story doesn’t match her version.
In this way, Notes on a Scandal shows the true nature of obsession. It is not about bunny-boiling or black roses. It is about an intense infatuation that grows gradually into something more frightening, constantly fed by the obsessor’s own demons.
Yet Sheba is not just the object of obsession, she suffers from it too. Her irrational desire for a young boy is disturbing, especially as she is so fragile and loving. The difference between her and Barbara is that she fully understands she is doing something wrong. She only half-heartedly tries to justify the inappropriate relationship and knows it cannot last, while Barbara genuinely believes that her and Sheba will be together one day.
The supporting performances are all brilliant, with Bill Nighy pitch-perfect as Sheba’s cuckolded husband and Andrew Simpson showing a remarkable maturity as Steven. However, it is the actresses who make Notes on a Scandal a must-see.
Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett are sublime in their portrayal of two tragic women – one flawed and one damaged beyond repair – whose lives collide with devastating consequences. They are doomed, and their emotions are so brutal that the faces of Barbara and Sheba will haunt you long after leaving the cinema.
- Amanda Whitehouse
The acting genius of Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett will keep you riveted to this fascinating story of obsession and loneliness.
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