DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    Judi Dench as BARBARA COVETT
    Cate Blanchett as SHEBA HART
    Bill Nighy as RICHARD HART
    Andrew Simpson as STEVEN CONNOLLY
    Juno Temple as POLLY HART
    Max Lewis as BEN HART
    Michael Maloney as SANDY PABBLEM
    Joanna Scanlan as SUE HODGE
    Philip Davis as BRIAN BANGS

    Rated R
    Studio: Fox Searchlight

    Directed by: Richard Eyre
    Back to DVD Review Home


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Every year, especially near the end of the year which dovetails into awards season, I see a lot of films that I just don’t like as much as the rest of the press. Maybe it’s my mainstream nature. I’d rather hold out for the summer blockbuster than to watch all of the Oscar contenders.

Such was the case when I saw “Notes On a Scandal” last year in the winter months. It had Oscar-bait written all over it. First, it was released during the awards prep. Second, it was a British film that came to the art houses. (Let’s not mince words. The Academy loves the British stuff.) Finally, it starred Judi Dench, and we all know that unless it has a 007 on the poster, a starring role with Judi Dench is enough for Oscar-bait.

The film tells the story of a new English teacher named Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) at the secondary school in London. Her mentor in the school is veteran teacher Barbara Covett (Judi Dench). The two make fast friends, but Barbara wants more. What starts as enjoyably spending time with each other becomes an obsession of Barbara’s.

Soon, Barbara’s heart is broken when she learns that Sheba has been having an affair with one of her students. In spite of her somewhat odd, yet apparently happy marriage, Sheba has strayed from her older and adoring husband Richard (Bill Nighy). Barbara uses this knowledge to drive herself further into Sheba’s life, hoping for a new love affair to develop.

What really bothered me about “Notes on a Scandal” is its aggressive attempt to be scandalous. Sure, that’s part of its title, but it just worked too hard at it. It’s as if the story was born from watching too many episodes of “The Jerry Springer Show,” and the filmmakers decided it would be more accepted by the Academy if the characters had British accents.

Now I know that this movie is based on a book, so the story came about long before it was even considered for filming, but to a redneck lunkhead like myself who is much more likely to see the film than read the book, this is how it appeared.

The only thing that saves the movie is the acting. Of course, Dench is excellent. She’s excellent in everything she does (even as Aereon in “The Chronicles of Riddick”). And Cate Blanchett is pretty darn good herself. Both were given huge accolades during awards season, although neither won an Oscar. The forgotten one in the film is Bill Nighy, who does a fine job as the sympathetic and confused husband.

But when all is boiled down in this film, it’s nothing more than a soap opera plot gussied up with a London location and British accents. Otherwise, there’s not much else going on besides what you’ll see on daytime television.

If you like these kinds of films, you should enjoy “Notes on a Scandal,” and as these films go, it’s pretty well made. However, if you’re like me, you might find yourself looking past it on the DVD racks for something with a few more explosions.

The DVD comes with some nice special features, including a commentary by the director, several behind-the-scenes featurettes and a series of webisdoes that were made to promote the film online.

Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Sound. Widescreen (1.85:1) – enhanced for 16x9 televisions. French and Spanish language tracks. English subtitles for the hearing impaired.

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