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 Marbe 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 manipulate Sheba
. Only Barbara's meticulously kept diary contains the truth of her manipulations. The film also stars Bill Nighy as Sheba's husband and Juno Temple as her daughter.
Tropes observed in the movie:
- 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. Then again...
- 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 McCoolname: 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.
- Berserk Button: Insulting Sheba's family is this to Sheba.
- 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.
- Comically Missing the Point: A dark comedy 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."
- The Dog Bites Back: Sheba's Unstoppable Rage at the movie's denouement.
- Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Completely averted. 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, 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.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Barbara is understandably repulsed by Sheba's affair with a teenager.
- Fake Nationality: Australian Cate Blanchett as Londoner Sheba Hart.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 and her anger at Sheba not being there for her leads her to spill the beans about her affair with Steven. She says "Someone has died".
- 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 also—she acts like a schoolgirl with a crush, right down to her devastation when her fling with Steven ends—rather than a 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.
- 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!
- 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!"