Lesbian Notes: The new movie, Notes On A Scandal (R), tells the story of a new and naive teacher who begins an affair with one of her students at a school in London. Barbara Covett (deliciously played by Dame Judi Dench) is a lonely spinster who is a veteran at the school; an old battleax who immediately focuses on the new teacher, Sheba Hart (the truly talented Cate Blanchett). Sheba is befriended by Barbara who doesn't have friends and soon Barbara is "betrayed" when she discovers an affair is going on between Sheba and one of her students. Instead of going public with the affair, however, Barbara uses the knowledge to further her friendship and closeness to Sheba. Unfortunately Sheba has other preoccupations such as a husband and two kids, including one with Downs Syndrome. Barbara records the details of her friendship with Sheba and the specifics of her affair with the student in her diary. The movie is based on the Zoe Heller novel of the same name, although the U.S. editions of the novel included the subtitle, What Was She Thinking? The scandal in Scandal is just as much Barbara's as it is Sheba's. Barbara lives an unexciting and uninteresting life and Sheba comes along to rock her world and she ends up rocking Sheba's as well. Dench infuses her Barbara (and her last name is not a mistake) with sadness, viciousness, and is both pathetic and sympathetic at the same time. It's a claim to Dench's talent that she can turn such a creepy character and fill her with likable qualities. This is fatal attraction for the females; more specifically lesbians. The movie is not entirely faithful to the book but it does work. It also features a somewhat more upbeat ending. The movie takes the book's lesbian undertones and puts them front and center and, thankfully, the subplot about Sheba's rebellious teen daughter is scrapped thereby making a tighter and more suspenseful story. It surprised me how many laughs that Dench's voiceover elicited but, again, the fact that the character could wring so many laughs from an otherwise detestable character is a testament to talent.
Bags of popcorn (out of 5): 4.5
possible Oscar nods