Notes on a Scandal

If you want to know how to write about a character who is less than ‘nice’, watch this film.

Notes on a Scandal, nominated for an Academy Award, was adapted from the 2003 novel Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller.  It tells the story of a pottery teacher, Sheba Hart, who  enters into an affair with one of her students, causing upheaval in her personal and professional life. The affair exposes her to blackmail from a fellow teacher, not for money, but for friendship. But things go from bad to worse and two people become trapped in a situation that has been created by two bad things that they have both done solely out of their own loneliness and weakness.

Judi Dench (one of my favourite actresses) plays the teacher, old fashioned and spinsterish. At first she seems just lonely and you feel a lot of empathy for her, but as the friendship between her and the younger teacher (Cate Blanchett), develops you slowly realise there are disturbing and unhealthy emotions rising to the fore. Somehow, you still retain a semblance of sympathy, even at the end as you watch her begin the process all over again.

The whole thing is bound together by the diary that Dench’s character writes. You become aware that she has been writing for a long time and wonder what other stories are hidden in those manuscripts.

The novel by Zoe Heller was shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker prize. I haven’t read it but will probably do so now. This is unusual for me as I most often read the book before I see the film! I’m often disappointed so hopefully this way round will result in much satisfaction!

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