Notes on a Scandal (2006)
Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett. Director Richare Eyre.
Amazing acting by Dame Judi raises this work up from near failure to average. She has you riveted to her face just by the way she smokes a cigarette. She plays a pathologically lonely spinster who tries emotional blackmail on Blanchett to secure an intimate friendship. Dench happens to see Blanchett having sex with one of their school’s students, and promises to keep the secret in return for friendship. Never mind that it is statutory rape and they both could go to prison. Blanchett’s character is a cipher. She acts irrationally and since we don’t know anything about her, there is no reason for her behavior, personality, profession, husband, or any of her choices. Anything she does is unmotivated so it’s difficult to care about her relationship with Dench. Add to that a droning voice-over narrative by Dench, supposedly representing entries in her diary (the titular “notes” on the scandal), and the audience is held six feet away from engagement. Dench’s character has some kind of severe personality disorder. If somebody is nuts, they can do or say anything without regard to common sense because hey, they’re nuts! But as a result, the audience can’t relate, so when Dench turns vengeant for some trivial reason, we don’t even care. This story has about as much psychological reality as an afternoon soap opera on TV. The music by Philip Glass is good, but it is manipulated into service of melodrama, with swelling violins at the “emotional” moments, pizzicato cello for tension. That spoils both the music and the drama. Still, Dench’s performance is worth seeing as its own tour de force.