NOTES ON A SCANDAL in one of its many lashing dialogue exchanges has Cate Blanchett call Judi Dench a “vampire”, and it really does sum-up those actual blood-suckers who troll among us, need-leeching psychos who wield delusional fantasies instead of butcher knives, creating just about as much misery.
A pocket-sized powerhouse of character turmoil, this 2006 spiderweb of pathology-drama features that years best writing, and some of its finest acting. The cruelly witty screenplay (Patrick Marber adapting a novel by Zoe Heller) is tautly directed by Richard Eyre, and the sharply paced intimate tragedy involving a handful of people is given a ‘larger’ canvas by Chris Menges rich cinematography and a unashamedly dramatic score from Philip Glass.
Bitter spinster Dench, a sour veteran high school teacher, makes a friend of a younger colleague (Blanchett), then methodically tries to make more of the relationship than is healthy. That’s putting it mildly, and things ratchet when Blanchett compromises her position (and happy home) by getting it on with a student (Andrew Simpson). Guilt, shame, lust, Machiavellian maneuvering on a micro-scale, with great lines by the dozen throughout 92 minutes of rabbit-hole nightmare.
Dench can play Fascinating Frump better than anyone since the wonderful Thelma Ritter, and she’s allowed the freedom that 50s vet was denied by her era. Blanchett is sexy in an unusual way for the movies: pale, angular, smart & scared, polite & naughty all at the same time. They were Oscar nominated for Best Actress and Supporting Actress, respectively; the score and script were up as well. The lacerating screenplay lost to the tiring profanity of The Departed.
Quietly chilling ending makes you reflect on some of the seemingly innocent but in fact malevolent spirits that cross our paths as we bumble along. With Bill Nighy (terrific), Philip Davis and Juno Temple.