Notes on a Scandal (2006)
This is fun and impressive. Directed by the sophisticated Richard Eyre, we're presented something as rare as a kitschy sex-thriller in a refined, art-house ambience. Let me tell you this at once, Notes on a Scandal could never have been made in the United States. Well, it could have been made, but it would never have worked. This is a film that plays diligently on all things arch-English, from the charming aspects (the humour, the class) to the more cheerless ones (the howling press, the suppression of emotions, the chilliness). It combines some of the cheapest tricks of the thriller genre, with some of the most classical, Hitchcockesque ones; And it does it blatantly, with loads of confidence. Eyre is in a playful mood, toying with the viewer's expectations, while at the same time being able to make some intricate, psychological examinations.
In the centre of events is Judi Dench, the stage trained actress who is hitting her prime when most of her contemporaries are well into their retirement period. Dench, who arguably delivered her best ever performance in Iris, her previous collaboration with Eyre, has a wonderful face that can shift from the cute grandma to the coldest malice in an instant - an ability that she effectuates to the utmost here. Barbara Covett (not an accidental last name, do you think) is both an eerie and heartbreaking character. She arguably shares her destiny with countless women attracted to their own sex throughout history. She's presented as an extreme, but underneath the Fatal Attraction-shell is deep, psychological delve into character by Dench.
By her side we find Cate Blanchett in one of the most nuanced roles of her career. Contrast her performance here with her shallow caricature of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, and decide for yourself which performance is most worthy of an Oscar. There's a lot to Sheba Hart. She's a crucible of emotions, and she ultimately pays for it. But what Eyre is asking, is what she's really guilty of.
At times, Notes on a Scandal becomes something close to shoddy. But then Eyre brings in some truly great dramatic sequences to balance it - as if it's all done on purpose. That is what makes this film so fascinating. Because bottom line is that it all works. Eyre delivers the suspense, the controversy, the humour, the drama and the satire. It is an extraordinarily rich film, with a strange abundance of tones and moods. And revelling in the shadow of the two female leads is a truly fantastic Bill Nighy - the film's little equilibrium.