is another's opportunity. Tonight, I watched Notes on a Scandal, with Dame Judi Dench and Cate Blanchette. The acting chops in that sentence pretty much assures that it will be worth watching. Having said that, I postponed watching it for awhile, not sure how creepy it would be. I thought Barbara Covett (Dench) was going to play rough, blackmailing Sheba Hart, and then...what?
But it was more nuanced than that. When Bathsheba slipped into an affair with a 15-year-old student, you may have gasped, but you could see the inevitability of it. He was complicit, and not much of a child. Was she wrong. Yes. In her place, would I have done it? I don't know.
Then Barbara, who has a budding friendship with Sheba finds out and confronts her. But as the conversation develops, she promises not to tell...she sees it as a way to become close to Sheba. As Sheba tries to break off the affair with Steven Connolly, Barbara insinuates herself more and more into her life as friend, confidante, and, well, one who shares an important secret.
The more we learn about Barbara, the more distasteful it is. And yet, she is what she is. All she has in her life is an unsatisfying job, a diary which she has kept for decades, her best friend (YES!), and her cat. Lonely, bitter, opportunistic. She falls in love with Sheba, and allows her fantasies to carry her to an unrealistic perspective on their relationship.
So of course she blackmails her, emotionally. She believes that Sheba's marriage with an older man is unhappy, (though that doesn't really seem to be the case either) and that she is the right partner for Sheba. When Barbara's cat dies, she expects Sheba to leave an important family function to be by her side. Sheba doesn't come, and everything comes apart after that.
I can see this happening. I think perhaps liaisons between teen-aged students and teachers are more common that we can know. And bitter spinsters as well. Indeed, I wonder why it doesn't happen more often. Maybe it does. Lots of dysfunctional people out there. (Sorry, I didn't mean you.)
And so, I felt sorry for Sheba. And Steven. And Richard, Sheba's husband. And their kids.
Even Barbara. Even as I disliked her and sneered at her. She was pathetic. But caught in her own maelstrom. She didn't set out to hurt anyone. In fact she set out to be loved. She just didn't do it very well.
Many of us don't.
It's a fine movie.
[Image from Reel Life Wisdom, which also has a review of the movie]