(5 of 5)
NOTES ON A SCANDAL Smirk, smirk. Pretty, slightly ditzy schoolteacher (Cate Blanchett) gets it on with one of her teenage students, and predictable consequences follow. But Notes is not really about age-inappropriate sex or child victimization. The boy involved is always the rather ugly aggressor in this relationship. If there is a victim, it is Blanchett's Sheba, addled by an unhappy marriage, failed artistic ambitions and, soon enough, by another relationship--this one from hell. It is with another teacher, Barbara (Judi Dench), who is their school's battle-ax--cruel disciplinarian, cynical commentator on the hopelessness of its lower-class student body and, yes, a scheming lesbian. Once she discovers Sheba's crime, she attempts to use it to blackmail her. Dench is nothing less than great in this role. It's hard to recall a recent performance of such unrelenting ferocity, such a thoroughgoing devotion to the domination of another life.
Notes on a Scandal is melodrama trying to pass itself off as a slice of realistic life. But director Richard Eyre and screenwriter Patrick Marber keep forcing us past disbelief and into the perverse pleasures of nastiness. If nothing else, their film is the perfect antidote to all those warm, forgiving schoolboy dramas we've endured through the years. This corn is not green; it is rotten down to the last kernel.