Scandal in a School
Having been teaching for more years than she cares to remember Barbara Covett (Judi Dench - Ladies in Lavender) has become one of those teachers who are feared by students and colleagues but also ignored due to her old fashioned ways and dislike of change. But despite this she becomes friends with new art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett - Babel) who invites her to meet her family for Sunday lunch. The friendship is what has been missing from Barbara's life as her companion has been a cat and her diary full of caustic observations about life and her colleagues. But when Barbara catches her new friend having an affair with a 15 year old student everything changes.
Maybe every school has one but Judi Dench's portrayal of Barbara Covett reminded me so much of a teacher when I joined secondary school, a small maths teacher with permed hair who had been there for many years and was feared by every single student as with each year her legend of being no nonsense grew. And maybe that is why "Notes on a Scandal" grabs you right away as the first 30 minutes are very much all about Barbara and her caustic observations on other teachers and students. Maybe it is just a British thing, maybe we only have Barbara's in British schools but if it is the case then "Notes on a Scandal" is a clever British movie which will appeal to a British crowd.
But then we get the first shock as we discover Sheba having an affair with a student. Now this has to be international as we witness the attractive new teacher in school with the boys giving her the look, others saying things about her whilst the more cocky even flirt with her. Again I can think back to my teenage years and remember the young and attractive English teacher coming to school with several suggestive remarks being made by horny boys about her although I don't remember anyone ever having an affair with her.
But "Notes on a Scandal" doesn't end there as we are barely half way through the movie and there is another twist, not a shocking one so much due to the way Barbara is both written and portrayed but certainly an interesting one. To disclose what happens would spoil things for those who do not know the story but in a way it attempts to evolve into something cliche like, more thrilling and not always successfully.
The thing about "Notes on a Scandal" is that the entertainment comes not so much from what happens but in the familiarity of the characters and the effectiveness of the acting. As I said both Barbara and Sheba were familiar to me, I had teachers which looked and acted just like them when I was at school and that makes it seem authentic. But the way both Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench portray these familiar characters is first rate with Dench really bringing different layers and a sense of menace to her character.
What this all boils down to is that "Notes on a Scandal" is a terrific movie but not because of what happens but because of the characters, their familiarity and the first rate acting through out.