There are some films that just end up being a perfect storm of brilliance. When everything from the writing, to the acting, to the direction is near perfect, that’s when you get a film like Notes on a Scandal. This film is a masterpiece and handles subjects very rarely mentioned in films and in a very interesting thrilling manner, which makes things all the more entertaining.
This magnificent script is the first thing I must touch on because wow the attention to every detail when it comes to character is so impressive! Character development is absolutely crucial in a film like this, we as the audience need to know about Dench and Blanchett and why they do the things they do. Their motivations and they’re life circumstances are laid out clearly, especially in Dench’s case.
Dench’s character is a older spinster who has some serious personal issues. We see more details of the issues she struggles with and the writers do a great job of showing us who she really is as Notes on a Scandal unfolds. With Blanchett, we see her current situation in life and her boredom with it all. Not only is she bored and dissatisfied but she’s also facing the reality that she settled down very young and missed out on most of that freedom that comes with being young. We need to have this character foundation in order for the main plot of the film to work and make sense.
Aside from character development, the script also handles the actual plot very well. We have this sense of uncomfortability from the get go and there’s plenty of thrills and drama to relish in. The dialogue is written with expertise too. There are many narrations from Dench’s character that let us hear her characters true thoughts and feelings. These narrations go a long way in making this story entertaining and intriguing. There’s also several very interesting conversations had between the two main characters which lets us see their relationship evolve.
The relationship Dench and Blanchett have is very rich with interesting/frightening details. The way Dench views her and their connection is the main plot point of Notes on a Scandal and it’s unique, I don’t think I’ve ever seen another film portray this kind of relationship between an older lonely woman and a younger somewhat unaware woman.
The other relationship and main plot point in the film is between Blanchett’s character and one of her 15 year old male art students. I really loved the way in which this relationship was portrayed and how the actors handled it. We see her reluctance to indulge in this sexual affair with a minor and then eventually give in because of her starvation of male attention. There’s some great narration by Blanchett as she tells Dench how the affair began and she explains that she knew it was immoral but that she hadn’t been pursued like this in so long.
We also see several scenes of the two of them after having sex where they talk for a bit and while the film doesn’t necessarily condone the behavior, it doesn’t treat Blanchett’s character as an outright predatory villain. I like that she is portrayed as an overall good decent person that engaged in an immoral illegal affair. It’s tricky because while this behavior is never excusable, I don’t think it’s fair or realistic to think that this woman is automatically evil simply because she engaged in such an affair. Her feelings and motivations are detailed and we see her internal struggle as she’s going through it all.
Now I must talk about these lead performances because damn…. the acting here is simply magnificent. Cate Blanchett is a natural talent and has given so many amazing performances in her career and her performance here is one of the best. She brings a lovability and candid nature to her character and she plays her as a relatable multi layered individual. There are several scenes in particular where her acting becomes so explosive and unhinged and it’s mesmerizing to watch… raw and unfiltered.
Judi Dench is of course a great proven talent and to me this is probably the best performance I’ve seen from her. Dench handles her characters deep personal flaws with such ease and makes her seem scary in a low key sort of way, which is all very effective. And these two women work great together, they feed off each others energy in a brilliant way. Honestly there is one scene towards the end that needs to be shown in acting classes, the anger and emotion is so palpable and real.
Notes on a Scandal is a masterful thriller complete with a smart script and incredible performances. This is one of the best.