A movie starring two actors like Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench inspires high expectations. The first two-thirds of this film deliver on those expectations, but sloppy writing and poor direction cause the latter part to falter.
Notes on a Scandal offers a compelling portrait of two desperately lonely women, who become consumed by their respective obsessions. Screenwriter Patrick Marber and director Richard Eyre risk losing the audience's sympathy in creating two deeply flawed individuals. It's a credit to both Blanchett and Dench that neither character becomes completely off-putting. Dench uses her commanding presence in an unusually evil turn as Barbara, while Blanchett lends an ethereal presence to Sheba. The sex scenes between Sheba and her young paramour are appropriately uncomfortable, but Blanchett brings such an earnestness to her performance that the viewer does not disconnect from her experience.
After a certain plot point occurs, the movie quickly descends into histrionics and melodrama, featuring some marvelous bits of scenery chewing by Michael Maloney, Bill Nighy, and even Cate Blanchett in a very badly directed scene. The ending returns to the subtlety of the first of the film, but the last few minutes cannot undo what precedes them. While imperfect, Notes on a Scandal provides some effective psychological exploration and features some strong acting, which makes it worth a viewing.