Richard Eyre‘s Notes on a Scandal begins with the symbolically named Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) looking out of her classroom window, narrating her low expectations about her pubescent, multiracial students. A lesser actress would read the word ‘progress’ as a racist, but Dench knows to keep the undertones down here and besides, Barbara has taught long enough to see the rough-edged evil within every generation of adolescents and she hates her students equally for that.
The more Barbara gets to know the new art teacher, the symbolically named Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), the more she thinks she knows what latter wants. She calls Sheba’s affair with the year 10 student Robert Connolly a middle class fetish to mold any poor person and that Sheba needs rescuing from her loveless and impulsive marriage. Robert joins her so, curtly telling Sheba that she wanted to feel like Bob Geldof. They’re not necessarily wrong – Sheba is a lost character but comfortably so because of her financial stability and beauty, making others covet her, and a character shouldn’t feel needy if she’s wanted back. She hasn’t planned on the husband (Bill Nighy) and children (Juno Temple) but she’s grown to love them.
I’m also still ambivalent about how these major characters place themselves on a morality scale. Barbara and to a lesser extent Robert distrust Sheba as the other, a person similarly inwardly dirtier. There’s obviously some class war here. These working class characters dissociate the bourgeoisie as a prison of appearances and consumerism, both thinking about the affair as if she’s had many. The two are easy to condemn if we forget that Sheba is inadvertently a leech, too.
- Notes on a Scandal (shewhoshallremainmentallychallenged.wordpress.com)