Film / Notes on a Scandal

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"We are bound by the secrets we share."

"She's the one I have waited for..."

Notes on a Scandal is a surprisingly intelligent and thought-provoking Yandere/Stalker with a Crush movie, released in 2006 by Fox Searchlight Pictures, produced by Patrick Marber and directed by Richard Eyre.

Based on Zoe Heller's bestselling book What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal, it tells the story of beautiful but lonely art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) who begins an affair with a 15-year-old student. However, Sheba's closest friend and confidante, a history teacher and lonely spinster named Barbara Covett (Dame Judi Dench) is secretly in love with Sheba and uses her knowledge of the affair to ruthlessly manipulate her. Only Barbara's meticulously kept diary contains the truth of her manipulations. The film also stars Bill Nighy as Sheba's much older husband and Juno Temple as her daughter.

Tropes observed in the movie:

  • Abusive Parents: Wow, Sheba's mother is really not the warm, maternal type. It's perhaps no wonder that she has grown up to be more than a little screwed up emotionally.
    "Bathsheba's a loner, I'm afraid. She's beautiful, thank God, and it's got her through. But it's not quite the same as possessing substance."
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Connolly is described in the book as being rather plain, with a slightly hooked nose. In the movie, that's not exactly the case.
  • Adult Fear: Being alone. It's enough to make one empathize with Barbara despite all the horrible things she does, because they are clearly to avoid this fate.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Does Barbara have Asperger's syndrome? She certainly seems to display a lot of the traits: taking things literally, obsessive interests, Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, poor social skills, high intelligence. Then again maybe she's just a sociopath.
  • Awesome McCool Name: Barbara Covett, Sheba Hart, the film is full of them. Both double as Meaningful Names.
  • Beauty Inversion: Handsome, elegant Judi Dench as haggard spinster Barbara.
  • Brutal Honesty: Barbara doles this out to Sheba upon finding out about her affair with Steven and when she finds out that Sheba has not ended it as she promised, citing the illegality and foolishness of her actions. Sheba gets her back good at the end, telling her how everyone at school hated her, etc.
  • Butt Monkey: Sheba, until she snaps.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Jennifer Dodd felt the need to file a restraining order against Barbara—who sent her fiance a funeral wreath. Additionally, Barbara acts quite jealous of anyone Sheba interacts with—from their very first lunch date, she's ticked off when Sheba invites a fellow teacher to join them.
  • Comically Missing the Point: A dark version. When Sheba rants at Barbara for the trouble she's caused by revealing her affair with Steven, saying that she could get two years in prison. Barbara blithely and cheerfully declares, "They'll fly by! I'll visit you every week! We have so much life to live together!" It's lines like these that reveal just how delusional she is.
  • Crapsack World: The film depicts a bleak and depressing image of London, the school where Barbara and Sheba work is shown to be a vile place and most characters in the film are miserable and feel unfulfilled.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Barbara comes out with some gems. "Here come the local pubescent proles, the future plumbers and shop assistants and doubtless the odd terrorist too. In the old days we confiscated cigarettes and wank mags, now it's knives and crack cocaine. And they call it progress."
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Barbara reveals Sheba's affair with Steven as revenge for Sheba not being there for her when her cat dies. (It should be noted that in the book, Sheba's motive is far more selfish than in the movie—she opts to have a rendezvous with Steven—making Barbara's actions more understandable).
  • The Dog Bites Back: Sheba's Unstoppable Rage at the movie's denouement.
  • Downer Ending: Both versions. The book ends with Sheba trapped in a a relationship with Barbara, with them both having lost everything and having no one to turn to but each other. The movie ends with Sheba going to jail and her marriage and relationship with her children likely forever damaged. Barbara escapes any punishment for her actions and the film concludes with her zeroing in on a new victim.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male:
    • Averted by the character reactions we see. Barbara is outraged and disgusted when she finds out about Sheba and Steven, Steven's mother goes Mama Bear on Sheba, Sheba's husband is furious and so are her children. Sheba is the only person feebly trying to convince herself that she hasn't really done anything wrong.
    • That said it's downplayed in another example, as she still receives a much lighter prison sentence than one can imagine a male offender would have, as well as forgiveness from her cuckolded husband.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Sheba blasts Barbara for revealing her secret, resulting in her arrest, completely overlooking that she chose to have an affair with her underage student.
  • Even Evil Has Standards/Jerkass Has a Point: Barbara is understandably repulsed by Sheba's affair with a teenager and blasts her for her stupid actions.
  • Female Gaze: The camera pans past Sheba's cleavage as Barbara reaches out to take hold of her hands. Later, as Sheba sleeps on the couch in Barbara's apartment, the shot roves over her shapely form.
  • Foreshadowing: In the film, when Sheba asks Stephen about his parents, he says he thinks his mother will get through just fine. The first Sheba's husband learns of the affair is when Stephen's mother attacks her.
  • For the Evulz: One possible interpretation of why Barbara exposes Sheba's secret.
  • The Ghost: Jennifer Dodd is mentioned often, but never seen except for a brief glimpse of a photo.
  • Hairtrigger Temper: The Headmaster.
  • He Is Not My Boyfriend: Said word for word by Sheba in feeble protest of her disgusted daughter's accusations, "You slept with a child! Your boyfriend is younger than mine!"
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Were it not for Barbara so meticulously recording everything in her diary, Sheba would never have discovered her obsession with her, her disdain for her and her family, and that Barbara spilled the beans about her and Steven.
  • Hot Teacher: Sheba.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Sheba's beauty is an actual plot point, numerous characters comment on it. Even Sheba's own snotty, hyper-critical mother cruelly comments that it's a good job she's beautiful as she doesn't have much else going for her. Also, a majority of the teaching staff at the school that Sheba and Barbara work at either (like Brian or Barbara herself) seem to be secretly in love with her, or (like Sue) at least drawn to her.
  • In Medias Res: The novel/manuscript starts out with Barbara comforting Sheba in the middle of the media circus surrounding the affair, then flashes back to how it started using portions of Barbara's diary.
  • It's All About Me: Barbara. To the point where she genuinely cannot understand why Sheba' s family is more of a priority than she is and sees her choosing them over her as a betrayal.
  • Jail Bait: Steven. Had Sheba just waited a few months—"He's 16 in May!", the outraged reaction from everyone would probably have been the same, but at least she wouldn't be facing jail time—the age of consent in England is 16. It's possible this is why her prison sentence is a mere 10 months.
  • Jerkass: The headmaster and indeed Steven, Sheba's 15-year-old lover.
  • Karma Houdini: Barbara again.
    • The DVD chapter names make it even clearer; the last chapter with Annabel is called "Moving On".
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Barbara, to the point where she's as devastated by her cat's death as one would be at the death of a loved one—outright saying "someone has died!"—and her anger at Sheba not being there for her leads her to spill the beans about her affair with Steven.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: The novel is presented as a manuscript for a book Barbara intends to write on the affair. It also contains pieces of Barbara's diary.
  • The Lost Lenore: Jennifer Dodd is this to Barbara, except she's not dead, she got engaged and got a job in Stoke. Sheba becomes this to her as well.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Barbara and, to a lesser extent, Steven.
  • McGuffin: Barbara's diary.
  • Meaningful Echo: The last scene of the film with Annabel suggests that Barbara will attempt to pursue another relationship, with two interactions mirroring Barbara's old relationships: the bench where she sat with both Jennifer and Sheba, and Annabel getting a bit of coffee on her nose like Sheba.
  • Meaningful Name: Sheba Hart lets her "heart" rule her head while Barbara Covett "covets". As well as Sheba's full name, Bathsheba, a well-known adulteress from the Old Testament.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Barbara takes a rather dim view of everyone around her.
  • Noodle Incident: Aside from sending her fiance a funeral wreath, we never find out exactly what else Barbara said or did that left Jennifer Dodd so terrified that she felt the need to file a restraining order against her. Further dialogue implies that that not only is the order still in place, several years later, but that she is still afraid of her, being willing to communicate only via her attorney.
  • Not So Different: Barbara believes this about herself and Sheba. Interestingly, the same can be said of herself and Steven as both are romantically obsessed with the same unavailable woman who is way outside their respective age groups.
    • In the film, Sheba and Richard's marriage was also the product of a Teacher/Student Romance. Thanks to the gender Double Standard and the fact that Sheba was of age when they started seeing each other, it's seen as more socially acceptable.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The Headmaster, an Expy for Tony Blair.
  • The Plan: Barbara unleashes a few over the course of the movie.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Barbara herself.
  • Psychopathic Womanchild: Barbara as shown by her inserting gold star stickers in her diary.
    • Sheba to a lesser extent. Her behavior during her fling with Steven and her devastation when it ends is more akin to a schoolgirl with a crush than a married 30-something mother of two.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Barbara's preferred mode of speech. "S. and I share the ability to see through the quotidian awfulness of things."
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Barbara feels superior to most people despite living in a ground-level flat on the Archway Road with only her cat for company. Sheba calls her on this.
  • The Sociopath: Barbara.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Barbara and Steven, both towards Sheba. In the book, Sheba is this to Steven.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Sheba and Steven, of course. Also Sheba and Richard.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Barbara hands these out like candy and Sheba gets them back to back until Sheba goes and unleashes the mother of them all on Barbara at the films climax.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Pretty much every character throughout the film has one of these. Steven has one when a classmate insults Sheba, Barbara has one when she finds out that the affair is still on and again later when Sheba refuses to help collect her dead cat from the vet, Steven's mother has one when she finds out about the affair, Sheba's husband, Richard, has one when he finds out about the affair, but then Sheba, at the film's climax, goes and tops them all!
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never see Steven or hear of him again after the scene where he attempts to attack Barbara.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Barbara. No matter what horrible things she does or havoc she wreaks, there is something so inherently pathetic and pitiful about her that one cannot bring oneself to hate her. Especially since she does somewhat suffer the consequences of her actions, losing her friendships with Jennifer and Sheba, as well as her job.
  • Yandere: Barbara, of course.

"You bitter old Virgin!"

Alternative Title(s): Notes On A Scandal

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