Director Richard Eyre has done an excellent job with this film, which has layers of subtlety that far surpass his lighter “Iris.”  Although we understand that Barbara is malevolent, Sheba does not.  Yet we don’t grow impatient with her naïveté.  Her revelation comes at exactly the right time, with pitch-perfect pacing that is maintained throughout the film, along with excellent performances all around.

Of course, this is why Blanchett received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, just as Dench did for Best Supporting Actress (neither won).  We identify with their pain.  And we pity them – even as we revile their behavior.  We wouldn’t make the same mistakes, but we see why they (particular Sheba, aka Letourneau) did.  In particular, Dench injects Barbara, the film’s protagonist, with the perfect dose of sympathy.  She’s obsessive, manipulative and incredibly cruel – but just a hair shy of evil.  So, amazingly, we don’t hate either woman.

The message here is subtle, but important.  On the surface, it delves beneath the headline hype, giving us a glimpse into the motives of those who defy the law with minors (and tragically, there have been many).  But beyond that, “Notes on a Scandal” also serves as a parable about the prevalence of sin.  Appearances can and are misleading, it seems to say – and those who appear as “sheep” can easily be “wolves.”  So beware, and guard your hearts.

Not only that, but this film also reminds us how vulnerable we all are to sin – even the most egregious kind.  We may think we’re impervious, but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be so naïve.  No one is above reproach.  “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” it seems to say, with more than a measure of truth.

AUDIENCE:  Adults

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Director's commentary
  • Interviews with Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy
  • Theatrical trailers
  • "Behind the Scenes" featurette
  • “A Tale of Two Obsessions” featurette

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Smoking and drinking throughout film
  • Language/Profanity:   Several obscenities and profanities, some strong, as well as obscene slang and allusions.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:   Several sexual scenes without nudity and cloaked in shadows; woman takes bath but no nudity is visible; several discussions about sexual situations, including veiled allusions to lesbianism.
  • Violence:   Tabloid reporters jostle and push, angling for photos.