Film Reviews

NOTES ON A SCANDAL

By • Dec 25th, 2006 •

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Brilliant and riveting. Judi Dench gets my Best Actress vote! And I tell you why female teachers have sex with teen boys.

The male-dominated media is astonished when a good-looking, young female teacher – sometimes a gorgeous blond one – has sex with a 14- or 15-year-old boy. No one seems to understand why. Not even psychotherapists offer much insight except the short-rope “bad daddy” excuse. I’m going to explain it – it’s the overwhelming scent of just awakened, untamed male testosterone. Fourteen-year-old males go around smelling females and send out a powerful sexual intensity that some women unwisely cannot resist. I’m not saying I condone it…

I’ll just quote Chris Rock on OJ Simpson: “I’m not saying he should have killed her. But I understand.”

Did you see Mary Kay Letourneau’s 13-year-old paramour Vili Fualaau? He looked 40 and must have carried himself like a tribal warrior tracking wounded prey. Mary Kay was the slow impala on the plain. Male teens just need a glance and they are ready. This is quite an aphrodisiac for a woman – flattering, wildly intoxicating, and sometimes it leads to prison.

Directed by Richard Eyre and based on Zoe Heller’s novel, “What Was She Thinking?,” NOTES ON A SCANDAL is a stunning film with Judi Dench brilliantly expressing the dark psycho-complexity of her role as “spinster” narrator Barbara Covett.

Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) is North London’s St George School’s newest art teacher. Beautiful and upper-class – the British are bound by a caste system and bitter about it – Sheba is a provocative presence among the elderly, working-class teachers long past a passion for teaching. They are pre-parole officers for their students who are destined to be shop workers and plumber’s assistants.

For 41-year-old Sheba, going back to teaching is a way to escape years of devotion to a Down’s Syndrome son, a miserable teenage daughter, and a 20-years-older, contented husband, Richard (Bill Nighy – with just one scene, deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination). Sour, but wit-tongued colleague Barbara Covett (Dench) quickly becomes enamored – from afar – with watching Sheba. She becomes quietly obsessed until she comes to Sheba’s aid in a classroom brawl. They become friends. Sheba is totally unaware that Barbara is a lesbian and has a crush on her. It is rather obvious, but not even Sheba’s devoted husband realizes that Barbara is in love with his beautiful, unappreciated wife.

When Barbara finds Sheba pleasuring one of her 15-year-old students, Steven Connelly (Andrew Simpson), she uses it to establish an intimate relationship with Sheba. She becomes her confidante and guardian of her secret. Barbara holds Sheba’s life in her hands. If she exposes Sheba, Sheba will lose her job, family, and go to prison. Barbara starts to emotionally blackmail Sheba. She becomes possessive and thrilled with her newfound power over Sheba. She demands Sheba end the affair. Writing it all down in her diary, Barbara begins fantasizing a life not with her beloved cat, but with Sheba.

Sheba cannot end her affair with Steven and continues to have sex with him in back alleys, on dirt roads, and in her home art studio. He’s careless, intense, and has that testosterone-fueled eagerness that is so appealing to Sheba.

When Barbara demands Sheba’s attention to her unrealistic emotional needs, and Sheba refuses to forego her son’s first school play to comfort her, Barbara seeks revenge. She decides to slyly betray Sheba.

As much as we are appalled by Sheba’s behavior and Barbara’s neurotic obsession, Dench and Blanchett are so emotionally committed – without needing to give reason or explanation for their actions – that we do not judge them.

Or at least I didn’t. I was too fascinated by the cruelty of the drama.

When the scandal is exposed, Barbara becomes an emotional haven for Sheba, who does not at first realize she was betrayed by her friend.

Barbara charms us with her point-on observations, and by acknowledging her fears about aging and being alone. We are compelled to sympathize with Barbara. Being an old woman alone is a scary thing.

Dench is a revelation. The entire cast is strong under director Eyre. He showers Blanchett with luminous light and the actress, to her enormous credit, does not play “beautiful.” Dench, Blanchett and Nighy make you say: Hey, this is the real deal. This is first class acting.

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