4 January 2007 | char treuse
Front Row at the Opera
Watching the emotionally intense black comedy, "Notes on a Scandal," you, too, may feel like its main character, Barbara, who reflects in one of her many voice-overs, "The opera has begun and I have a front-row seat." Directed by Richard Eyre ("Iris," "Stage Beauty" and the exceptional TV version of "Suddenly, Last Summer" with Maggie Smith and Natasha Richardson), "Notes" bravely wades into modern-day Grand Guignol as the tension between its two female stars heads inevitably toward a showdown.
Patrick ("Closer") Marber's melodramatic screenplay cleverly makes use of Barbara's voice-overs as she scribbles in her diary and makes jaded, bitter observations about the world around her. Abundant voice-overs usually point toward shortcomings in a drama, but here they provide irony and serve to enhance the dialog.
In her juiciest role since "Mrs Brown," Judi Dench brings an element of sympathy to Barbara, a closeted, self-loathing lesbian school teacher attracted to the new art teacher, Sheba, played by Cate Blanchett. Madly hoping to wrest the heterosexual Sheba from her husband and two children, one of whom has Down Syndrome, Barbara stumbles upon Sheba's sexual dalliance with a 15-year-old student. In a Machiavellian turn, Barbara hopes to manipulate Sheba by maintaining her secret . . . with strings attached. Need I add that all does not go well?
In fact, escalating histrionic fireworks ensue. Blanchett holds her own in this emotional and physical battle royal, capping her incredible year (2006) that also included outstanding performances in "Babel" and "The Good German." As Sheba's husband, Richard, Bill Nighy also comes through with a powerhouse performance. The moody score by Philip Glass is icing on the cake.
At a tidy 92 minutes, "Notes on a Scandal" is highly concentrated and vivid. The recently announced Golden Globe nominations include Dench, Blanchett and Marber, so we can expect Oscar nods as well.