Notes On A Scandal
R3 - Hong Kong - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (14th August 2007).
The Film

"Notes on a Scandal" is adapted from the 2003 book "What Was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal" by Zoe Heller, filmmaker Richard Eyre brings out all the drama and plays it with brilliant performances and a captivating music score that makes scenes of dramatic intensity even more spellbinding.
Told from the perspective and diary entries of veteran teacher Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), who lives a lonely and private life with her aging cat, when one day the school introduces a new art teacher - Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett). The two eventually become friends; Barbara a little too clingy becomes infatuated with Sheba when suddenly she discovers a terrible secret, Sheba has been having an affair with her 15-year-old student, Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson). Adamant to remain her friend Barbara chooses to keep the secret but Sheba must end the affair, unable to their friendship reaches it's zenith when Sheba discovers her diary that features in detail her true feelings and motivations.
Nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score, after having viewed the film it's easy to say that the film earned every single one of those nominations. Judi Dench is excellently cast against type as the lonely and desperate Barbara, her terrible solitude is her main motivation in pursuing Sheba's friendship and persistence and manipulation in keeping her within her grasp. Dench delivers a powerful performance and not for one moment do you doubt her resolve. In counterpoint to Barbara is Sheba, Cate Blanchett embodies the vulnerable teacher stuck in a crumbling marriage to an older man, Richard (Bill Nighy). She easy falls for Steven, pursued in a ways she hasn't been and the exhilaration of keeping the affair secret drives her into his young arms. Blanchett plays Sheba in an almost childlike manner, not in the way she acts but rather there's a fragility about her. You almost feel sorry for Sheba.
The onscreen paring of Dench and Blanchett is kinetic, the result is brilliant acting from two generations squaring off but never stealing each other's thunder, it's a near perfect balance of acting prowess. The film's script also manipulates in the same manner Barbara does to Sheba, on the outset it may be a film about the inappropriate relationship between a school teacher and her student but it's really about Barbara's desire to fill her vast emptiness of a life with a companion, she merely uses the affair to her advantage in spinning her control over Sheba. And adding to the film's tone is the score by Philip Glass which is both haunting and moving. It's a top caliber film that despite it's achievements in the nominated areas it's still, however feels like a glorified made-for-TV movie much like "The Queen" (2006), perhaps the subject matter lends itself better for the late night true-stories movie crowd than a full blown theatrical piece. Despite this very minor flaw (and I stress the word minor) it's a terrific film, skillfully crafted by the filmmaker and his fine actor's. Highly recommended.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1 this anamorphic transfer presents the film rather well, the image is sharp and wonderfully detailed. The colors are nice and rich; especially the mid-afternoon scenes that take place at Shiba's home, the light and warm-tone colors are beautifully rendered. Black levels are appropriately deep and bold with shadow detail remaining consistent especially during dark or dimly-lit scenes. There was some grain amid the print but nothing that distracts, no other major flaws were presents, and no compression related issues or any edge-enhancement to speak of.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included in English Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as in Thai Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English soundtrack. The film's subject matter doesn't lend itself towards an aggressive soundtrack but this 5.1 track is rich in other areas. The dialogue is clear and distortion free, with subtle ambient effects making themselves known in the surround channels adding depth to the film as does the brilliant score which makes effective use of the sound space immersing the viewer totally.
Optional subtitles are also included in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Thai, Tagalog and Bahasa Indonesian.

Extras

First up is a feature-length audio commentary by the film's director Richard Eyre, from the outset and without introducing himself Eyre jumps right into this engaging track. Remaining screen-specific Eyre comments on the story elements and the use of the diary as a narrative tool as well as reveals production issues and trivia such as balancing the stalker element with the teacher element for Dench's character and examines each scene and tells the viewer his intention on tone and pace as well as performance. He occasionally comments on the events as they appear in the novel and also character motivations and backgrounds among other things. To be honest I expected a rather dull and dry track veering on the edge of boring but instead I was pleasantly surprised with a rather fine commentary that is most certainly worth listening to.

The first featurette on this disc is entitled "Notes on A Scandal: The Story of Two Obsessions" and runs for 12 minutes 20 seconds, this focuses on the story and the adaptation process and also sheds light on the actors portraying the lives of the two extraordinary lonely women. Character's are examined and their obsessions that manifest themselves as well as the casting of the two female leads among other things. Although brief this isn't entirely an EPK and it's probably the only video extra on this disc worth checking out.

The second featurette is entitled "Notes on A Scandal: Behind The Scenes" and runs for 5 minutes 11 seconds, this is the standard EPK clip which features interviews with the key cast and crew telling us what a great film this is and the challenge of playing the characters, it's cut together with behind-the-scenes footage and scenes from the film.

The third and final featurette is "In Character with Cate Blanchett" which runs for 2 minutes 7 seconds, this is a brief promotional interview made for the Fox Movie Channel and features Blanchett telling is about her character's background and motivations.

Following that are a series of webisodes, these are short clips made for the internet marketing of the film, they can be viewed individually or with a 'play all option' and include:
- "Judi and Cate: Behind the Scandal" which runs for 1 minute 16 seconds, Dench and Blanchett talk about each other's performance.
- "The Screenplay" runs for 1 minute 31 seconds, this is a look at the novel and scripting process.
- "Judi Dench " runs for 1 minute 46 seocnds, the rest of the cast tell us why she's so wonderful.
- "Cate Blanchett" runs for 1 minute 17 seconds, the cast comment on her brilliance.

Also included is "A Conversation with Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy" these are four more webisodes that include:
- "Casting" runs for 3 minutes 42 seconds, the two talk about how they got involved in the project.
- "Characters" runs for 1 minute 2 seconds as the two discuss their characters.
- "On Set" runs for 2 minutes 35 seconds, they comment on the atmosphere that the director provided on the set.
- "Love Scenes" runs for 47 seconds, on how the two had to kiss on the first day they met.

Rounding out the extras is the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 25 seconds.

Overall

The Film: A- Video: A Audio: A Extras: B Overall: A-

 


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