Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) is a history teacher at a comprehensive school in London. A spinster nearing retirement, her only comfort is her diary. When a new art teacher, Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), joins the staff, Barbara is immediately attracted to her. Sheba is married to the much older Richard (Bill Nighy), and is just entering the work force after devoting herself to a special needs son.
When Barbara discovers that Sheba is having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student, Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson), she confronts her. Sheba asks her not to tell the school administration until after Christmas as she wants to be with her family, Barbara claims she has no intention of informing, providing Sheba ends the relationship immediately. Sheba eventually tells Steven that the affair is over. However, when she refuses to give in to Barbara's demands on her time, Barbara reveals the secret to a male teacher who tells her that he is attracted to Sheba and asks her to act as an intermediary.
After the affair becomes public, Barbara and Sheba both lose their jobs. The head teacher suspects that Barbara knew about the affair and did not notify the authorities; he also learned that a former teacher at the school had taken out a restraining order against Barbara for stalking her and her fiance. Sheba is thrown out of her home by her husband and moves into Barbara's house. Sheba is unaware that Barbara is the reason she was found out, believing the affair became known because Steven confessed it to his mother. When Sheba finds Barbara's diary and learns it was Barbara who leaked the story of the affair, she confronts Barbara and strikes her in anger. A row ensues, and Sheba runs outside with Barbara's journal to a crowd of reporters and photographers. When she becomes hemmed in by them, Barbara rescues her. Sheba's emotions spent, she quietly tells Barbara that she had initiated the friendship with Barbara because she liked her and they could have been friends. She leaves Barbara, placing the journal on the table, and returns to her family home. Richard and Sheba face one another silently for several moments, and then Richard allows her to enter. Sheba is subsequently sentenced to 10 months in prison.
In the final scene, Barbara meets another younger woman who is reading a newspaper about the Sheba Hart affair. Barbara says she was acquainted with Sheba, but implies they hardly knew each other. Barbara introduces herself, invites the other woman to a concert, and the pair continue to talk.Judi Dench as Barbara CovettCate Blanchett as Sheba HartBill Nighy as Richard HartAndrew Simpson as Steven ConnollyTom Georgeson as Ted MawsonMichael Maloney as Sandy PabblemJoanna Scanlan as Sue HodgeShaun Parkes as Bill RumerEmma Williams as LindaPhil Davis as Brian BangsJuno Temple as Polly HartMax Lewis as Ben HartAnne-Marie Duff as AnnabelJulia McKenzie as Marjorie
Filming took place in August and September 2005. The film was mainly shot on location in the Parliament Hill, Gospel Oak and Camden Town areas of northwest London.
The film opened to generally positive reviews, with Blanchett and Dench receiving critical acclaim for their performances, and receiving a Rotten Tomatoes "Certified Fresh" rating of 87%. The Guardian called the film a "delectable adaptation" with "tremendous acting from Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, with many blue-chip supporting contributions and a "screenwriting masterclass from Patrick Marber". The Times praised the film, saying: "Notes on a Scandal, is screenwriting at its vicious best... Richard Eyre directs the film like a chamber play. He leans on Philip Glass's ever-present and insistent music like a crutch. But his natural gift for framing scenes is terrifically assured. A potent and evil pleasure."
American publications also gave the film acclaim, with the Los Angeles Times describing the film as "Sexy, aspirational and post-politically correct, Notes on a Scandal could turn out to be the Fatal Attraction of the noughties." The Washington Post noted the "dark brilliance" and that it "offers what is possibly the only intelligent account of such a disaster ever constructed, with a point of view that is somewhat gimlet-eyed and offered with absolutely no sentimentality whatsoever." The reviewer also identified the film as a "study in the anthropology of British liberal-left middle-class life." Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert heaped praise on the film and the acting performances "Perhaps the most impressive acting duo in any film of 2006. Dench and Blanchett are magnificent. Notes on a Scandal is whip-smart, sharp and grown up."
However, the Houston Chronicle criticized the film as a melodrama, saying, "[d]ramatic overstatement saturates just about every piece of this production".
The film grossed $49,752,391 worldwide, against a budget of $15 million.
The original score for the movie was composed by Philip Glass. The film features a song by Toots & The Maytals and another by Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Awards and nominations
79th Academy Awards:Nominated: Best Actress – Judi DenchNominated: Best Supporting Actress – Cate BlanchettNominated: Best Adapted Screenplay – Patrick MarberNominated: Best Original Score – Philip Glass
BAFTA AwardsNominated: Best British FilmNominated: Best Actress – Judi DenchNominated: Best Adapted Screenplay – Patrick Marber
British Independent Film AwardsNominated: Best British Independent FilmWon: Best Performance by an Actress in a British Independent Film – Judi DenchNominated: Best Performance by a Supporting Actor or Actress in a British Independent Film – Cate BlanchettWon: Best Screenplay – Patrick Marber
Broadcast Film Critics Association AwardsNominated: Best Actress – Judi DenchNominated: Best PictureNominated: Best Supporting Actress – Cate Blanchett
Chicago Film Critics Association AwardsNominated: Best Actress – Judi DenchNominated: Best Supporting Actress – Cate BlanchettNominated: Best Adapted Screenplay – Patrick MarberNominated: Best Original Score
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association AwardsWon: Best Supporting Actress – Cate Blanchett
Evening Standard British Film AwardsWon: Best Actress – Judi Dench
Florida Film Critics Circle AwardsWon: Best Supporting Actress – Cate Blanchett
Golden Globe AwardsNominated: Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama – Judi DenchNominated: Best Supporting Actress – Cate BlanchettNominated: Best Screenplay – Patrick Marber
London Film Critics Circle AwardsNominated: Actress of the Year – Judi DenchNominated: British Actress of the Year – Judi DenchNominated: British Supporting Actor of the Year – Bill Nighy
Oklahoma Film Critics Circle AwardsWon: Best Supporting Actress – Cate Blanchett
Online Film Critics AwardsNominated: Best Actress – Judi DenchNominated: Best Supporting Actress – Cate BlanchettNominated: Best Original Score – Phillip Glass
Phoenix Film Critics Society AwardsWon: Best Supporting Actress – Cate Blanchett
Screen Actors Guild AwardsNominated: Best Actress – Judi DenchNominated: Best Supporting Actress – Cate Blanchett
Toronto Film Critics Association AwardsWon: Best Supporting Actress – Cate Blanchett