Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), the new art teacher at a high school in London, finds herself soon befriended by Barbara Covett (Dame Judi Dench), a lonely colleague who happens to be a very repressed lesbian. Sheba’s straight, though mired in a passionless marriage to a much older man (Bill Night), and burdened by a bratty daughter (Juno Temple) and a Down Syndrome son (Max Lewis).
As a consequence of this middle-age malaise, she embarks on a steamy, if sordid affair with Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson), a 15 year-old student who makes her feel young again. Despite the age disparity, and the difference between his working-class Irish and her decidedly bourgeois background, she succumbs to the seductive overtures of the budding hunk during a private tutorial session.
One day, Barbara perchance catches the couple in a compromising position, but curiously decides to not report the statutory rape to the principal or the authorities, at least not yet. Instead, she lets Sheba know that she’s aware of the adulterous affair, and orders that it end immediately in return for a promise to keep the indiscretion private. However, like the British version of Mary Kay Letourneau, the shameless hussy just can’t get enough of her young Vili Fualaau. Her kinky compulsion plays right into Barbara’s hands, for the sixty-something spinster has an unrequited crush on Sheba, and is not above resorting to a thinly-veiled threat of blackmail as leverage for an intimate liaison. So unfolds Notes on a Scandal, as adapted from the perhaps more appropriately titled “What Was She Thinking?” the best-selling novel by Zoe Heller.
Though the film revolves around a love triangle, the story is only concerned
with the fallout for its two female leads. Thus, Steven is abandoned in accordance with the debatable notion that he’s just a lucky lad, who couldn’t possibly be scarred or negatively affected by the experience. To the extent that you are willing to accept this unwritten axiom, you are likely to appreciate this otherwise complex character study.
Judi Dench enjoys the juicier role, here, as a note-taking narrator who gradually becomes hopelessly obsessed with the object of her affection. Cate Blanchett is almost as intriguing as a woman with needs willing to risk her family reputation for a little something on the side. Too bad Sheba’s too blinded by lust to see that her latent confidante has a selfish Sappho agenda.
Blessed with empathetic cinematography courtesy of two-time Oscar-winner Sam
Menges and with a lush score from two-time nominee Philip Glass which collaborate to elevate child molestation from a felony to a forgivable moral failing, Notes on a Scandal is a flick which amply illustrates how far the culture has come in terms of giving such scandalous behavior the benefit of the doubt. Afterall, Mary Kay and Vili not only eventually married but were paid handsomely by Entertainment Tonight for exclusive rights to the TV