A psychological thriller about female longing that stumbles somewhat in the final third, there is still much to admire and enjoy in 'Notes on a Scandal'. Adapted from Zoë Heller's bestselling, Booker Prize-shortlisted novel by 'Closer' scribe Patrick Marber, directed by the well respected Richard Eyre ('Iris', 'Stage Beauty') and staring the inestimable Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, 'Notes on a Scandal' comes with a fantastic pedigree which it - almost - lives up to.
Dench takes the oh-so-juicy role of Barbara, a dumpy, cat-loving old spinster noted for, amongst other things, being a stern disciplinarian in the school where she teaches. Blanchett plays Sheba, a luminous new art teacher who has just started work there. From the start the attractive young woman is keenly observed by Barbara, whose entertainingly catty diary entries act as narrative points throughout the story. The two soon become fast friends, and Barbara, who is tattily dressed at best, even gets all dolled up for a Sunday lunch with Sheba's family - older, self-depreciating husband Richard (Nighy), pop tart young daughter (Temple) and a son with Downs Syndrome (Lewis).
Almost as soon as she starts work, it seems, Sheba becomes embroiled in an illegal adulterous affair with an attentive 15-year-old student (played by Donegal lad Simpson). When Barbara discovers what's going on, she is quick to use the knowledge to her advantage.
There are no heroines in 'Notes on a Scandal'; rather it is a 'Single White Female'-type affair with the relationship between Barbara and Sheba being the crux of the film. Barbara wants far more than Sheba is willing to give but, given her hold over the younger woman, Sheba is caught in a web of deceit. While their melange descends into melodrama in the last part of the film, stunning performances from Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett - particularly in their many scenes together - keep the audience hooked. Amongst such high-powered performances, young Andrew Simpson is able to hold his own as the youthful lover while Bill Nighy's Richard, at first seemingly the only benevolent character in the film, uncovers hidden depths when he discovers Sheba's betrayal.
Superb acting and a deliciously wicked, witty script save 'Notes on a Scandal' from sinking amidst sensationalism. A deviously entertaining cinema outing.