This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
For the sake of common decency, I shall take care of the housekeeping first: Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), a largely bitter and mostly twisted history teacher finds out that her friend and fellow teacher for whom she harbours a worryingly obsessive longing for, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) has been playing sink the submarine with 15 year old student Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson). Rather than spill the beans, Babs uses this as leverage to work her way further into Sheba’s confidence. Eventually the cat gets out of the bag, with understandably devastating results on Sheba’s hubby Richard (Bill Nighy), her daughter and son.
Taken on that basis alone, Notes On A Scandal more or less struggles its way to mediocrity. There’s solid supporting turns from all concerned to back up Dame Sir Madam Dench’s excellent obnoxious, catty, deeply unsympathetic character acting, but while that’s the one obvious positive about the film it also becomes an obvious negative. Long before the credits role you’ll have stopped giving a fraction of a damn about anyone featured in the story, essentially because none of them (Nighy’s role possibly excepted) are really worth giving a fraction of a damn about.
Notes On A Scandal, on these strictly narrative terms alone, more or less justifies the cost of the ticket on Dench’s performance alone, although would be given a rather guarded recommendation at best. But for one thing, Notes On A Scandal has two-and-a-half to three stars stamped all over it. But for one, big, irritating thing.
For reasons that the finest psychotherapy money can buy has yet to determine, I tend not to notice film soundtracks unless they’re very, very good, or just the opposite. Imagine, then, the torrents of fear unleashed upon me when the opening credits revealed the hitherto un-noticed threat of a “Score by Philip Glass”. Aieee!
Glass, for those fortunate enough to have avoided his output thus far writes the sort of orchestrations that makes your teeth itch. This is especially the case when, as my surely distorted yet abiding memory of this film informs me, it’s being played very, very loudly over every single scene in the film. It overpowers the acting utterly in places; it’s the equivalent of someone crashing through a wall in a tank when their compadre is trying to sneak in through the back window. It’s the usual Glassian three-note, one-instrument water torture that’s deeply, deeply unpleasant to suffer through.
I could rant on about Philip Glass for about another twelve paragraphs, which might provide some sense of closure on this sorry episode for me but is unlikely to be of much utility for anyone else. Were this the otherwise the greatest story ever told you might convince me that the soundtrack could be ignorable, but as it stands it’s merely dragging the film down from it’s far from lofty perch amongst the aviary of mediocrity back down into the abyss of the unwatchable. Something is rather seriously wrong with a film when I must resort to clenching my hands over my ears in the vain hope that the nasty music will stop, just please stop, please stop, stop. It doesn’t, and just about the only way Notes On A Scandal could make itself a less appealing prospect than it currently is were for it to leave a smelly jobby under your seat.