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Notes on a Scandal: A Screenplay

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This unsettling black comedy about private passion and public shame is based on Zoe Heller's acclaimed novel, adapted for the screen by celebrated dramatist Patrick Marber (Closer). When art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) arrives at a London comprehensive she catches the keen eye of her older colleague Barbara Covett (Judi Dench). Barbara is not the only one drawn to This unsettling black comedy about private passion and public shame is based on Zoe Heller's acclaimed novel, adapted for the screen by celebrated dramatist Patrick Marber (Closer). When art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) arrives at a London comprehensive she catches the keen eye of her older colleague Barbara Covett (Judi Dench). Barbara is not the only one drawn to Sheba, who then begins an illicit affair. Barbara is the keeper of Sheba's secret, but can she be trusted?


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This unsettling black comedy about private passion and public shame is based on Zoe Heller's acclaimed novel, adapted for the screen by celebrated dramatist Patrick Marber (Closer). When art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) arrives at a London comprehensive she catches the keen eye of her older colleague Barbara Covett (Judi Dench). Barbara is not the only one drawn to This unsettling black comedy about private passion and public shame is based on Zoe Heller's acclaimed novel, adapted for the screen by celebrated dramatist Patrick Marber (Closer). When art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) arrives at a London comprehensive she catches the keen eye of her older colleague Barbara Covett (Judi Dench). Barbara is not the only one drawn to Sheba, who then begins an illicit affair. Barbara is the keeper of Sheba's secret, but can she be trusted?

30 review for Notes on a Scandal: A Screenplay

  1. 5 out of 5

    John

    Sheba, a young and yummy female art teacher in a not marvelous London school begins an affair with one of her (male) pupils, Connolly, and commits the sin of enjoying it despite the fact the boy's an obvious turnip. Disgrace, public humiliation, possibly prison lie at the end of it all, but none of these things matter. The sole clouds on her horizon are her friends among the faculty, the troglodytic Fatty Hodge and the ghastly old spinster Barbara Covett. It's Barbara who's decided to write an a Sheba, a young and yummy female art teacher in a not marvelous London school begins an affair with one of her (male) pupils, Connolly, and commits the sin of enjoying it despite the fact the boy's an obvious turnip. Disgrace, public humiliation, possibly prison lie at the end of it all, but none of these things matter. The sole clouds on her horizon are her friends among the faculty, the troglodytic Fatty Hodge and the ghastly old spinster Barbara Covett. It's Barbara who's decided to write an account of the whole fiasco, supposedly to help her "friend"; in fact her narrative, which is this novel, is a document that reveals less about Sheba, her motivations and the affair than it does about Barbara herself, in particular her possessiveness, her need to dominate, and possibly (although this is a likely unjustified inference of mine) her suppressed lesbian yearnings for Sheba. A lot of the time while I was reading this I was reminded of Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, another novel where the commentary is more important than the main narrative, and where the point is the unwitting revealing by the commenter of who the commenter really is. Heller isn't as skilled a player as Nabokov was at this sort of game and isn't up for the kind of narrative trickstery Nabokov managed as if by reflex, and Notes on a Scandal curiously loses out through making fewer and lesser demands on the reader than Pale Fire does; yet there's a huge amount of pleasure -- and a lot of laughter -- to be derived from this book. Notes on a Scandal is unlikely to turn out to be your book of the year, but it could very well turn out to be your book of the month. ETA: Months later, I've realized that (as have others here) I accidentally linked my review to the screenplay rather than the novel. All the above remarks apply, of course, to the book I read rather than the one I didn't . . .

  2. 4 out of 5

    Susan Ford

    I loved this novel. It was so great to hear the inner machinations of such a vile mind. Barbara Covett really is Mrs Davers if Rebecca was wriiten from her perspective. This was delicious. Sometimes it's nice to meet and almost be on the side of the awful character - which is all praise to Marber who managed to make me hate and cheer for her at the same time. Send me more like this! I loved this novel. It was so great to hear the inner machinations of such a vile mind. Barbara Covett really is Mrs Davers if Rebecca was wriiten from her perspective. This was delicious. Sometimes it's nice to meet and almost be on the side of the awful character - which is all praise to Marber who managed to make me hate and cheer for her at the same time. Send me more like this!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mya

    It took me a while to get into the story, but it read quite quickly once I did get into it. It was only towards the end when I started to rethink my views of the characters - and the end is a little disturbing. Worth a read if you like a bit of psychology.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Realini

    Notes on a Scandal, based on the novel by Zoe Heller This good film benefits from the performances of the brilliant Judi Dench, now Dame, and Cate Blanchett. Bill Nighy is also excellent. Dame Judi Dench portrays a teacher, Barbara, which has one year or so before retirement. In her school, a new colleague is played by Cate Blanchett. This younger professor is called Sheba. She has trouble facing the noisy, often rude and belligerent students. One day, Barbara is passing by the class where a fight is i Notes on a Scandal, based on the novel by Zoe Heller This good film benefits from the performances of the brilliant Judi Dench, now Dame, and Cate Blanchett. Bill Nighy is also excellent. Dame Judi Dench portrays a teacher, Barbara, which has one year or so before retirement. In her school, a new colleague is played by Cate Blanchett. This younger professor is called Sheba. She has trouble facing the noisy, often rude and belligerent students. One day, Barbara is passing by the class where a fight is in progress. She comes in, establishing order again and takes the two boys out for scolding. Barbara is very friendly and amiable. The younger teacher invites the senior to her house. Sheba is married to a much older man, Richard aka Bill Nighy. They have two children, a girl and a boy who is autistic. The motion picture has a voice over and Barbara is the one telling the story or the Notes on a Scandal We gradually understand that Barbara has more than just a "normal, usual" interest in helping a younger, charming colleague. Details of a previous relationship with a woman come forward. This film is exceptional and the slow access into the intimacy of the protagonists is part of the secret of its success. Barbara is just about sure that her friendship with Sheba is set to become ever more resplendent. During a school play, the older teacher reserves a seat next to her for her friend. But when the latter does not come, she starts looking. This is one climax or the nadir of the story, depending on how you look at it. For in a room near the school, Sheba and the fifteen year old Steven are having...sex! The older woman is flabbergasted! Outraged, she is facing her younger colleague and threatens: You end this now, or I will inform the school master! Yes, I will! Barbara is then playing the role of the confidant. Tell me all about it. The boy is only fifteen, but so adult in his manner. He insisted, sent messages and finally seduced his teacher. If we are to take this view, of course. It is clear now that Barbara is a lesbian, attracted to the beautiful, younger woman. She sees this as the amazing chance to play all this adversity and trauma to her advantage. In the end, Sheba will see that her family, husband and kids are not her happiness. She will move with Barbara and they will live happily ever after. Or so the latter thinks. And all is well for a while. Until Barbara sees the young man in the garden of her friend. She is out of her mind with fury. Threats, blackmail and many scenes follow. Sheba has not ended her affair with the fifteen year old! One of the school teachers comes to Barbara to confess that he is in love with Sheba and to ask for advice. This is another nadir. The disappointed woman throws the bomb... Sheba appears to like much younger men, boys really... They say that she has an affair with this pupil...Steven. All hell breaks loose. The boy's mother comes to Sheba's house and starts knocking her about. Whore! How could you do that! And many expletives are shouted. The authorities place the teacher under accusation. Mass media gathers at the gate and of course, the husband is mad. Barbara has to face consequences too. The headmaster gives her the option to retire earlier or face the storm. Barbara has had a very rocky, to put it mildly, relationship with her previous love interest. The other younger teacher has gone to a solicitor who has sent restricting orders. Barbara has threatened that woman's boyfriend and has really been more than a nuisance. Notes on a Scandal is an exhilarating drama

  5. 5 out of 5

    Anushae

    Scandalous, satirical and full of wit. Told by a villanius unreliable narrator who manages to at the same time be pretty hilarious and a great storyteller. It's a story of female friendship, obsession and latent repressed lesbian desire and of course an inappropriate affair with a student. It makes you question age, love, frienship and societal values. Scandalous, satirical and full of wit. Told by a villanius unreliable narrator who manages to at the same time be pretty hilarious and a great storyteller. It's a story of female friendship, obsession and latent repressed lesbian desire and of course an inappropriate affair with a student. It makes you question age, love, frienship and societal values.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Martina

    I didn't like this book because I didn't like any of the characters. Barbara is not clear, she is envious and possessive. The other one is childish and silly. The boy...is just a boy. I didn't like this book because I didn't like any of the characters. Barbara is not clear, she is envious and possessive. The other one is childish and silly. The boy...is just a boy.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    It's true that you do have the faces of Judi Dench (Barbara) and Kate Blanchet (Sheba) in your mind if you saw the film, but that's maybe because they were so well cast. I think the book develops the characters really well, and there's lots of unintentional ironic humour in the style of the narrator's voice. I think the story walks a fine line between being critical but not too judgemental of the teacher-pupil affair; and of the motivations and intentions of the manipulative, lonely spinster. If It's true that you do have the faces of Judi Dench (Barbara) and Kate Blanchet (Sheba) in your mind if you saw the film, but that's maybe because they were so well cast. I think the book develops the characters really well, and there's lots of unintentional ironic humour in the style of the narrator's voice. I think the story walks a fine line between being critical but not too judgemental of the teacher-pupil affair; and of the motivations and intentions of the manipulative, lonely spinster. If anyone is a victim, it appears to be the younger teacher. It raises the questions of where the line can be drawn, at what age adulthood begins and what the responsibilities of each individual are. The rather sad but almost sinister intentions of the older teacher come across very well, as do her over-idealistic perception of the younger teacher's blissful marital existence. Maybe the characters of the other teaching staff are stereotypical but I suppose that's the point. The implications of class conditioning and subsequent expectations are also present. When I saw the film, I remember wondering if my reaction to a male teacher/female pupil realtionship would've been the same.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chrystyna

    Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller - Good, but.... This is a good book - well written, but I didn't like it. Two main characters, both teachers: Sheba, a new member of staff and Barbara, an older, more experienced teacher. An obsessional, manipulative, stereotypical old maid, right down to the cat. She sees Sheba as a new friend and when Sheba confides a secret she finds that she can single her out, cut her off from everyone else and make her totally dependent. Listed in the 102 Greatest Books by Wom Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller - Good, but.... This is a good book - well written, but I didn't like it. Two main characters, both teachers: Sheba, a new member of staff and Barbara, an older, more experienced teacher. An obsessional, manipulative, stereotypical old maid, right down to the cat. She sees Sheba as a new friend and when Sheba confides a secret she finds that she can single her out, cut her off from everyone else and make her totally dependent. Listed in the 102 Greatest Books by Women: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ariannareboli...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gregg

    I had a hard time figuring out why this book was shorlisted for the Man Booker--it's entertaining and with a gripping, engrossing style, but it doesn't seem up to further analysis. Since I'd already seen the film with Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench (totally worth watching, by the way), it was hard not to see their faces when I pictured the characters. But it was still good. An early-forties art teacher hooks up with a student, while preyed upon by a jealous older colleague. It was a fast read. We I had a hard time figuring out why this book was shorlisted for the Man Booker--it's entertaining and with a gripping, engrossing style, but it doesn't seem up to further analysis. Since I'd already seen the film with Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench (totally worth watching, by the way), it was hard not to see their faces when I pictured the characters. But it was still good. An early-forties art teacher hooks up with a student, while preyed upon by a jealous older colleague. It was a fast read. We had a snow day recently, which was the perfect excuse to binge on it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    You might have heard of the movie with Judi Dench and Cate Blachett. Obviously, that movie is based on the book. The book is about a schoolteacher, Barbara, in her sixties who befriends a younger teacher, Sheba, who is new to the school. Sheba starts having an affair with a fifteen year old student (whoops) and of course there's a huge media storm over it and Barbara starts writing her memoirs over the whole ordeal, hence the title. You might have heard of the movie with Judi Dench and Cate Blachett. Obviously, that movie is based on the book. The book is about a schoolteacher, Barbara, in her sixties who befriends a younger teacher, Sheba, who is new to the school. Sheba starts having an affair with a fifteen year old student (whoops) and of course there's a huge media storm over it and Barbara starts writing her memoirs over the whole ordeal, hence the title.

  11. 4 out of 5

    L.E. Fidler

    ok, i read the book, not the screenplay, but i'm too lazy to rectify that on this thing. i actually really liked this one. first person narration in the form of a sinister, lesbian schoolmarmy spinster. her dry, acid tongue was particularly amusing as she recants the story of the fall from grace of the art teacher who "inspired" a male student's affections (if you know what i mean). dark, twisted, and fascinating. ok, i read the book, not the screenplay, but i'm too lazy to rectify that on this thing. i actually really liked this one. first person narration in the form of a sinister, lesbian schoolmarmy spinster. her dry, acid tongue was particularly amusing as she recants the story of the fall from grace of the art teacher who "inspired" a male student's affections (if you know what i mean). dark, twisted, and fascinating.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Naomi

    I really liked this book. Normally, I prefer not to be "aware" of the author in the reading of a book, but the structure and author's "tricks" were precisely what made this book enjoyable to read. The plot, characters and subject were neither particularly original nor engaging, but I LOVE the way she develops the "untrustworthy" narrator. Part of a new mini genre of books that feature that. Really enjoyed analyzing it! I really liked this book. Normally, I prefer not to be "aware" of the author in the reading of a book, but the structure and author's "tricks" were precisely what made this book enjoyable to read. The plot, characters and subject were neither particularly original nor engaging, but I LOVE the way she develops the "untrustworthy" narrator. Part of a new mini genre of books that feature that. Really enjoyed analyzing it!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Keryn

    This book was okay. The shift in the time frame made it feel a bit jerky, and a little past halfway through, I was ready for it to be over. I felt like it was trying to build up to a dramatic ending and then when it finally did end, it wasn't anything big. I read this book for a book club, so I don't know if I would have chosen it on my own.. but I may get the movie and see if I like it better! This book was okay. The shift in the time frame made it feel a bit jerky, and a little past halfway through, I was ready for it to be over. I felt like it was trying to build up to a dramatic ending and then when it finally did end, it wasn't anything big. I read this book for a book club, so I don't know if I would have chosen it on my own.. but I may get the movie and see if I like it better!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Aprylle

    This was a decent story. I don't know why folks think it's a lesbian story. If so, tell me who the lesbian is. I think because I picked up this book expecting some exciting lesbian tale, I was disappointed. My perspective of the book was skewed from the start, so I was never able to embrace it for what it was. This was a decent story. I don't know why folks think it's a lesbian story. If so, tell me who the lesbian is. I think because I picked up this book expecting some exciting lesbian tale, I was disappointed. My perspective of the book was skewed from the start, so I was never able to embrace it for what it was.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Shirley

    Really enjoyed this book. Story line not one I would normally choose, but writing style made it worthwhile. The reader gets a good insight into the two main characters; however, I chose this book having seen the movie with Judi Dench, and I wonder how the author feels about the major changes made--including and entirely different ending.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Vrinda Pendred

    I REALLY, really liked this - it'd get 5 stars except I already knew a little about the story from all the hype around the film, and it made the ending have less of an impact on me. But every line was superb, just such spot-on clever writing and deep characterisation. Very uncomfortable reading, but somehow humorous at the same time. I REALLY, really liked this - it'd get 5 stars except I already knew a little about the story from all the hype around the film, and it made the ending have less of an impact on me. But every line was superb, just such spot-on clever writing and deep characterisation. Very uncomfortable reading, but somehow humorous at the same time.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    A pretty good read considering I'd already seen the movie. The book deviates from the film in an undesirable way (for me): the Sheba caracter is so much more pathetic and helpless. This does give Barbara more redeeming qualities and makes her seem more genuine in caring for Sheba. A pretty good read considering I'd already seen the movie. The book deviates from the film in an undesirable way (for me): the Sheba caracter is so much more pathetic and helpless. This does give Barbara more redeeming qualities and makes her seem more genuine in caring for Sheba.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    After reading "The Believers" by Zoe Heller, I decided to read her other novels. I found "Notes on a Scandal" to be compelling as well. The plot has been invented before, but the way she inhabits her characters and moves us along the inevitable is very intriguing. After reading "The Believers" by Zoe Heller, I decided to read her other novels. I found "Notes on a Scandal" to be compelling as well. The plot has been invented before, but the way she inhabits her characters and moves us along the inevitable is very intriguing.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Shirley

    An engrossing read from the beginning. It basically takes you more through the narrator's mind than the action that she is recording. It's a dark comedy, a tough self appraisal of growing old alone, and a study in poor decisions with relationships. Well written. An engrossing read from the beginning. It basically takes you more through the narrator's mind than the action that she is recording. It's a dark comedy, a tough self appraisal of growing old alone, and a study in poor decisions with relationships. Well written.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I Loved this novel, it was gripping, though I was disappointed with the end, it came to an abrupt end, & as a reader I felt the author did a poor job for the final pages, so I couldn't give it 5 stars, i read the Zoe Heller version not the screenplay. I Loved this novel, it was gripping, though I was disappointed with the end, it came to an abrupt end, & as a reader I felt the author did a poor job for the final pages, so I couldn't give it 5 stars, i read the Zoe Heller version not the screenplay.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

    This book is the story of Sheba, a married middle-class middle-aged pottery teacher who has an affair with a 15 year old pupil. It is told by Barbara, a sixty-ish spinster who teaches in the same school, in a voice that could easily have been written by Alan Bennett.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tera

    A child affecting a child. We all know what the movie is about, but it is another book that should be read before seeing the movie.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    book is better (and different) from the movie!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    The odd book where the movie version was much better.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Li-Anne

    Reread recently. Excellent!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Very disturbing ... first on the level of the narrator, who's life is completely consumed by a narcissistic pedophile and then on the level that it's the love story of a pedophile. Very disturbing ... first on the level of the narrator, who's life is completely consumed by a narcissistic pedophile and then on the level that it's the love story of a pedophile.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Enia

    VG!!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kailin

    creepy and relentless. i like exploring the theme of entitlement in both women, they clearly felt strongly entitled to different things.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tahnee McGuire

    Gripping storytelling and intriguing characters, full of flaws and secret desires.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Marcia

    I liked the insight into the old maid teacher better than the younger one who was making it with her student.

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