Divine Dame Judi Dench received her sixth Oscar nomination to date for playing Barbara Covett, an elderly teacher in Notes on a Scandal. Well, 2006 wasn't the most exciting Best Actress race ever. If there's ever been a lock to win, it was Helen Mirren. And I guess that poor Judi became the fifth in the voting. Too bad, though nowadays people seem to be much more crazy about her then they were about Helen Mirren back thrn. Seasons change I guess and time's the best judge.
Notes on a Scandal is a great movie, which I have seen four times, but always found some interesting nuances I haven't really noticed. One of the most fascinating things about it is how thrilling it is. I have already expressed my fondness of the scores of Philip Glass and this one is not different, though I might prefer The Hours and Koyaanisquatsi to this one. The performances are as sharp as a razor: Cate Blanchett was absolutely robbed of that Oscar (I mean, that competiotion is NOTHING compared to her) and Bill Nighy should have received a nom at least. However, I must say that I spotted some very tiny but manipulative moments this time and the director wanted to make sure that we get the movie.
And Dame Judi: well, I just really don't waste your time with my endless praise towards the brilliant dame. She's such a thrilling, fascinating actress and I just cannot wait until My Week with Marilyn comes out. I always look forward to watching her movies as she alsways brings something fresh and new to her acting. She always gives different types of performances that are amazing on their own merit. She can play Queen Elizabeth I, Iris Murdoch, Queen Victoria and everyone and I'm just blown away. In Modern Family, Cam said that Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice. Well, that's basically the same that I feel about Dame Judi Dench.
Let's be brief about this one because I should get it out right now: Judi Dench is amazing as Barbara Covett and this might even be her best performance in a film. One could not get a character that is harder to play than the manipulative, unlikeable and bitter Barbara. I would even say that she's a character that you instantly hate. She's the brutal spinster teacher that everyone is terrified of. She's a typical snob bitch who looks down on her pupil. Dame Judi's line readings (not only) at the beginning are simply terrific. That bitterness that you imagine this character has is perfectly got across by her. Yes, the character is not very likeable but Dench made her very enjoyable, at the very least.
And still, that's probably the smallest achievement of her. As soon as Sheba Hart comes in, Judi Dench's performance becomes as sharp as a razor and she becomes totally brutal and extremely disturbing. Dame Judi shows sch harrowing and disturbing amount of loneliness that this character has that it becomes very hard to watch after a while. When Barbara's asked by Sheba to come to lunch to her home is a fantastic moment. That hopeful smile and little twitch is so perfectly done by Dame Judi. I mean that's something that you call talent. She does not just say "I adore lasagne", she screams for help.
The scenes of Dame Judi with Cate Blanchett are also wonderful: they are so full of tension and of course the fact that they are two of the most brilliant actresses of our era adds a lot to them. The inconvenient truth about Sheba makes Barbara extremely furious and then everything changes in a moment. Barbara decides not to report Sheba for having an affair with a pupil of hers and Judi showed the moment of the decision with such brilliance. On the outside, she's the good guy, the good friend, a mother superior who helps the little nun. Inside, Barbara is a cold, bitter bitch who found an opportunity for some happiness. And it's all brilliantly shown by Judi Dench.
As the movie goes on, Barbara sinks deeper and deeper into her isolation and becomes more and more obsessed with Sheba. The loneliness she feels makes her sould very ugly and yet we feel sorry for her. I could so feel the pain when she had to say goodbye to her cat. That scene didn't almost make me cry because I'm an avid animal lover and can't watch when cats die. I felt the true misery inside this person. And her final line to Sheba ("I need more than a friend") was one of the most depressing lines I've ever heard.
So, to sum up, Judi Dench gives a fantastic performance as Sheba Hart, a desperate, lonely woman who feels like she has some hope in her life at last. Dench is almost disturbingly perfect as Barbara Covett. Every line reading, every nuance, every movement is just great. Dench made the audience care about this highly unlikeable character. Occasionally, one just says "poor woman" despite the fact how awful Barbara can act. My admiration and enthusiasm dropped a bit towards this performance but she's fantastic anyhow.
What do you think?