It’s an acting lover’s dream come true when Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett face off in Richard Eyre’s Notes on a Scandal. A microscopic look at a twisted, lonely individual with no qualms about using emotional blackmail to get what she wants, Notes on a Scandal quickly grips the viewer and doesn’t let go for its entire ninety minutes showing us sometimes sad and sometimes scandalous behavior in a competition for companionship that can have no real winners.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DTS, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 32 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 04/29/2014
Spinster school teacher Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) longs for a close female companion that she can admire and respect, but when the new married art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) who’s no good at handling students arrives, Barbara puts aside her qualifications for friendship and goes after Sheba’s comradeship. Imagine her surprise when she learns her heart’s desire is having an affair with a fifteen year old student (Andrew Simpson)! For most, it would be the end of any intended close friendship, but for Barbara, it’s only a means to an end, a guilty secret that she can use to keep Sheba close to her.
The Production Rating: 4/5
As narrated by Barbara, Patrick Marber’s script for the movie (based on a novel by Zoe Heller) paints our main character as a cynical, catty she-wolf, despising her students, her fellow teachers, her boss (Michael Maloney), even Sheba’s family (including husband Richard played by Bill Nighy and her two children, one a moody teen and one a Down’s syndrome child). And yet, despite this despicable individual as our entry into the story, we come to almost pity her loneliness and narrow, perverted view of the world as unworthy of her interest and filled with people who are patently beneath her. In its perverse way, the movie leads us by the collar as Barbara twists and maneuvers matters to get what she wants willing even to scuttle her own career if it means garnering that elusive prize – someone who will take a genuine interest in her as she does in the other. Director Richard Eyre doesn’t hesitate showing us some of Sheba’s illicit lovemaking sessions with her Scottish-brogued student indicating her own loneliness and dissatisfaction with her domestic situation despite a loving husband and children. And, near the end when we finally have a real showdown between our two female principals, the sparks really fly (not that they haven’t already earlier in the piece, but this time it’s an emotional cauldron that explodes), and the camera goes in close to capture every flicker that crosses the faces of the two almost deranged ladies. No one escapes from the scandal unscathed and that includes bitter jabs at the persistent tabloid press members giving them well-earned black eyes for their eternal and ever-devouring need for more shame, more dirt, more disgrace.
Quite different from the affable, sanguine ladies she has often played in the past, Judi Dench really flowers as this unbalanced, unstoppable monster earning one of the film’s four Oscar nominations for her performance. Cate Blanchett also earned a well-deserved nomination for her elfin free spirit caught in a well-wrought web of her own and Barbara’s making. In other supporting performances Bill Nighy as the unsuspecting older husband, Andrew Simpson as the sexually insatiable student, Phil Davis as the teacher who brings the house of illicit cards crashing down, and Michael Maloney as the school headmaster all do first-rate work. In smaller roles, Julia McKenzie as Barbara’s sister who understands and accepts her sister’s lesbianism (without putting a name to it) and Juno Temple and Max Lewis as Sheba’s children with their own problems and disappointments also contribute wonderfully to the film’s overall glum tone.
The film’s theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. There is nothing showy or demonstrative about the solid image quality offered here. Sharpness is very good with telling details of facial features, hair, and clothing during close-ups. Color is solid but unshowy with realistic skin tones throughout. Contrast is consistently maintained, and black levels are quite good. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is likewise appropriate to the small story nature of the enterprise without many bombastic qualities. Philip Glass’ Oscar-nominated score gets the full surround treatment, but ambiance around London, the school, and the neighborhoods where the two principal characters live might have been a bit better achieved through more aggressive envelopment. Dialogue has certainly been excellently recorded and has been placed in the center channel.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: director Richard Eyre gives the play-by-play (literally) describing details in every scene along with offering behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the filming.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Notes on a Scandal: The Story of Two Obsessions (12:21, SD): original novelist Zoe Heller, screenwriter Patrick Marber, director Richard Eyre, and stars Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Andrew Simpson, and Bill Nighy talk about the plot and characters of the book and movie and offer praise of each other’s work on the project.
Notes on a Scandal: Behind the Scenes (5:11, SD): Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, and Bill Nighy (in some sound bites already heard in the previous featurette) speak appreciatively about working with one another.
In Character with Cate Blanchett (2:07, SD): a brief few comments from the actress about her role recorded for the Fox Movie Channel's promo for the film.
Webisodes (13:59, SD): five brief web interviews with the stars, the original author of the book and writer of the script, and the director as they talk about work on the project (again repeating sound bites already used in other vignettes).
Theatrical Trailer (2:25, SD)
There is very great acting on display in this jittery, semi-perverse little emotional thriller Notes on a Scandal. It would be unthinkable for fans of the stars not to know all about this very individualistic melodrama, and the Blu-ray release offers a beautiful visual and aural gateway to exploring the movie in the depth it deserves. Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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