Notes on a Scandal – DVD Review

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Richard Eyre


Judi Dench .Barbara Covett
Cate Blanchett ….Sheba Hart

The Movie

There must be some unwritten rule that since 2000, no matter what sort of role they take, Cate Blanchett and/or Judi Dench have to be nominated for an Academy Award. Both seem to have their name called when the Academy announces nominations, as Blanchett won for her role in The Aviator before her most recent nomination and Dench found herself nominated last year for Mrs. Henderson Presents as well as nearly every year since 1998’s Mrs. Brown. How fitting, then, that both have their latest nominations for performances opposite one another in the terse drama Notes on a Scandal.

Blanchett stars as Sheba Hart, a teacher with a rather scandalizing secret. She’s secretly sleeping with one of her underage students, a fact she’s managed to conceal from everyone but Barbara (Dench). A closeted lesbian with only a cat to call her friend, Barbara uses this valuable bit of information to insinuate herself into Sheba’s life, pushing the limits of Sheba’s psyche.

And the film has two main strengths it relies upon; its script and its two leads. Anytime you have two world class actresses like Dench and Blanchett on the screen, even mediocre writing seems better because you have two masters of the craft using it. But the film itself is wonderfully written for the most part, giving us a quality introduction to the characters before the scandal begins. In the short time before we get a clear understanding of both characters and their relation to one another; the dynamic changes drastically once it begins. It’s a deft touch by the script that raises the stakes slowly but surely as the film moves to its finale.

It is almost the equivalent to Sleuth in how its leads dominate the film. Dench and Blanchett carry the film and appear in the bulk of the scenes. Its pure brilliance from the pair, bringing out two characters well suited for the actresses as well as the pair has strong chemistry with one another. Definitely worthy of the pair of Oscars the duo was nominated for, the two have to have great performances or the film doesn’t work as tightly as it’s scripted. This is a stellar script, plotted excessively well, but it needs the two leads to have great performances for it to work on a top level.

Unfortunately the film hinges on one major plot turn that sets up the final act. It’s not really well done, as it’s a bit blatant and contrived. While the third act and the fallout from the plot turn are both well done, the event itself is just lazily done. It’s a bad way to set up a strong finale and takes the wind out of the sails of what otherwise is a strong film.

The Audio

Presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 format, the film has a great audio component. The film has a rather powerful score that is transferred over to the DVD format wonderfully. The sound is balanced and really pushes the power of the system; it’s mainly a dialogue based film, obviously, but, the film’s scoring is absolutely powerful and comes out strongly in the format to the point where it almost overpowers the dialogue.

The Video

Presented in a widescreen format, the film looks terrific. There isn’t a whole lot of color or majestic scenery to be found for the most part, as the film is more intimate and uses interior shots and scenery, but it comes through cleanly and clearly.

The Extras

Commentary by director Richard Eyre is included, as the director gives his thoughts on the film.

Notes on A Scandal: The Story of Two Obsessions is a feature focusing on the film’s themes of obsession and loneliness from the two main characters. Principles from the cast, as well as the director, show up to talk in depth about the characters and why they do what they do. It’s interesting to hear the cast talk about the characters, their motivations and what went into bringing the characters to life.

Notes on A Scandal: Behind the Scenes looks at the making of the film. With the same principles from “The Story of Two Obsessions” combining on this featurette as well, it’s interesting to hear them talk about the film and its production as well as various aspects of making the film.

In Character with Cate Blanchett is a piece from the Fox Movie Channel in which she talks about the character she plays. It’s only two minutes, though, so nothing of note is said.

Webisodes: are a series of short features originally published by Fox Searchlight on the internet covering various aspects of the film in short spurts.

The Theatrical Trailer is included as well.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Notes on a Scandal
(OUT OF 10)