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Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench

"Notes on a Scandal"
A Review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

A word in common use in bureaucracies (corporate and governmental) nowadays, is "triangulation." It refers to information communicated by three persons (or more) containing omissions and/or additions and/or alterations among the parties involved. Another term more accurate and direct would be "lie," or bear false witness.

In Richard Eyre's "Notes on a Scandal" you see several examples of triangulation being put to "good" effect by Barbara Covett (Dame Judi Dench), a proverbial old-maid school teacher. The "good" effect for Barbara is to isolate Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), a newly arrived arts and crafts teacher at school who is about to encounter some very big problems in her personal and professional lives. Barbara is there to "help" Sheba.

Miss Covett is a closeted lesbian nearing retirement. Mrs. Hart is not far from 40, with two children and an older husband (Bill Nighy). The marriage is good, but could be better.

Cate Blanchett and Andrew Simpson

Cate Blanchett and Andrew Simpson

Sheba becomes involved with 15-year-old Steven (Andrew Simpson), one of her students. Barbara spies the pair embracing in an empty classroom one evening while a school event takes place elsewhere in the building.

The recent departure of Barbara's former female teaching companion makes it plain the pending predicament for Sheba is an opportunity for the older teacher. Sheba confesses all to Barbara who, in turn, threatens she must advise the headmaster about the illicit affair, but relents when she realizes that she (Barbara) can get something out of the situation by not doing anything. She assures Sheba she'll keep the secret, but that the sexual liaison with the teenage boy must end. The isolation ensues. The affair continues.

Cate Blanchett is one of the world's leading film actors. She's been busy of late. I've seen her in three films just since Thanksgiving: "Babel," "The Good German" and "Notes on a Scandal." Judi Dench, whose name is high on awards lists now, is also in demand, and a superlative actor. She reappears as M in Daniel Craig's recent outing as 007 ("Casino Royale") as well as giving this smashing performance as the vitriolic Miss Covett. (the linked movies are reviewed on this site.)

Blanchett's character in "Notes" tends to make one wonder just how naïve an art teacher in an English middle-school can get. Sheba makes more bad decisions in "Notes" than the Kate Winslet's character in "Little Children". Duh, uh ladies! It's the only problem with "Notes on a Scandal" other than being a very ugly, nasty story about a lonely, rather old woman who sees nothing in life in positive terms and how she might manipulate others to compensate for her abject loneliness.

It's Dench's movie by the very nature of the character she plays, but also the talent with which she plays it. Blanchett is just great, too and comes amazingly alive in a scene toward the end of the film after Sheba finally realizes how manipulating Barbara has been. The conflict between the two women is a true moment of power on the big screen.

Bill Nighy and Cate Blanchett

Bill Nighy and Cate Blanchett

I must confess that Bill Nighy is a favorite of mine. It's not easy to watch his work impartially. His role as Richard Hart is not a big one, however, there couldn't have been a better choice for Sheba's husband, who is just about old enough to also be her father. Richard also has some convincing explosive moments in "Notes on a Scandal."

I remember reading the book The Wisdom of Insecurity in about 1970 or so. The author was Alan Watts (one of the guru-type writers of the day.) His take on Triangulation I can still see clearly on the page: "Lies isolate you."

Triangulation! It's the "new" sensation.

Coming soon to Tulsa theaters.
"Notes on a Scandal" official site.
See Yahoo Movies for Tulsa theaters & times.
Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net
Copyright © 2007, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

1/22/2007: Chew's Top Ten for 2006:

1. Babel
2. The Queen
3. Children of Men
4. Little Miss Sunshine
5. Little Children
6. The Painted Veil
7. Letters from Iwo Jima
8. Borat (There's something in this film other than just goofballs being rude and gross.)
9. The Good Shepherd
10. Notes on a Scandal

Best Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth

Honorable mention movie is "The Sweet Land," which was actually released in 2005.

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