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Notes on a Scandal

Sometimes when you finally get around to seeing an Oscar-lauded performance after the hoopla surrounding the Academy Awards is over, it's hard to see what all the fuss was about. (Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby comes to mind.) That's decidedly not the case with Judi Dench's exceptional work in Notes on a Scandal. As caustic, deeply lonely English schoolteacher Barbara Covett — who becomes obsessed with younger, more bohemian colleague Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett, also excellent) — Dame Judi is outstanding. Barbara's pointed observations about the world around her, which she records constantly in a series of identical slim diaries, make it clear that she's contemptuous and dismissive of her fellow teachers, her students, and people in general — but she also longs desperately for a sympathetic, like-minded companion (she never includes the word "lover" in that description, but it's clearly implied). She believes she's found that kindred spirit in Sheba, who gratefully befriends Barbara after the older woman helps her navigate the school's choppy waters. Confidences are exchanged, long walks are taken, and Barbara is in heaven. She sees herself as Sheba's savior, "rescuing" her from perceived martyrdom to her much-older husband (Bill Nighy), somewhat stroppy teen daughter (Juno Temple), and mentally disabled son (Max Lewis). The problem, of course, is that Sheba isn't the misunderstood angel that Barbara has fashioned her hopes and dreams around: She's just as lonely and flawed as Barbara, albeit in different ways, and she makes all-too-human mistakes. It's Barbara's discovery of the biggest of those mistakes (the titular scandal) that drives most of the movie's plot — and gives Dench and Blanchett the opportunity to really earn their well-deserved laurels. Smart, well-written (the script was adapted from Zoe Heller's novel by Patrick Marber), and complicated, Notes on a Scandal is an absorbing character study that successfully deals with the shades of gray that are part and parcel of real, messy, everyday life. Fox brings the film to DVD in a strong anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (Spanish and French Dolby Surround tracks are also available, as are English and Spanish subtitles). Extras include a straightforward commentary by director Richard Eyre, a handful of slightly repetitive "making-of" featurettes ("Notes on a Scandal: The Story of Two Obsessions, " "Notes on a Scandal: Behind the Scenes," "In Character with Cate Blanchett"), 14 minutes' worth of webisodes (the most interesting is a conversation between Blanchett and Nighy), the trailer, and previews for other films. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech



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