When Barbara stumbles upon Sheba giving one of her students (Steven, played by Andrew Simpson) more than a little extra help after class, the levee breaks.
Pale and effervescent, Sheba brightens Barbara’s life like “a merry flag on the arctic landscape of my calendar”, bringing new hope to a flower long wilted.
What begins as friendship turns into infatuation, and soon Barbara is writing obsessively in her journal; fawning over Sheba’s flighty perfection, and imagining the two as more than just colleagues.
Drizzled with Oscar nominations (for Best Actress, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay and Score) Notes on a Scandal is nonetheless an art-house picture that will slip from the big screen to rental markets with hardly a murmur.
It’s a shame, for at the film’s core lies one of the year’s most beguiling performances.
In one hair-raising scene, Barbara quietly steals a single golden strand that has fallen to her lap from Sheba’s head.
Her theft (set against a score of stark strings, courtesy of the unimpeachable Philip Glass), is at first playful and seductive, but hints at the creepiness to come.Their affair is neither pulpy enough to titillate (zero nudity, rife with awkward moments), nor soulful enough to defend.Even the strikingly feline Blanchett (all pursed lips and high cheekbones) looks unbecoming pressed against a freckled pubescent; and the kid really doesn’t exude the kind of charm or sexuality that might win such A-list attention.Director Richard Eyre focuses so tightly on Barbara’s obsession that he fails to cultivate the film’s central scandal.Absent any escalating sexual tension, what happens next feels strangely dissatisfying.A staple of cinema since his star turn in 2003’s Love Actually, Nighy plays caricatures better than real humans.