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Notes on a Scandal is a 2006 drama film, adapted from the 2003 novel of the same name by Zoë Heller. The screenplay was written by Patrick Marber and the film was directed by Richard Eyre. Many parts of the film were shot in Islington Arts and Media Schoolmarker. The soundtrack was composed by Philip Glass.

It was nominated for four Academy AwardsBest Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score.


Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) teaches history at a comprehensive school in Londonmarker. A lonely old spinster, Barbara's only "intimate relationship" is with herself by means of a diary. When a new, younger teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) starts at the school, Barbara feels drawn to her and believes that she "may be the one." Barbara discovers that Sheba is having an affair with a student, Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson), and confronts her. When Sheba asks her to not tell the school administration until Christmas so that she can be with her family, Barbara explains she has no intention of telling, as long as she ends the relationship. However, Sheba does not end the affair with Steven, causing Barbara to taunt her emotionally and draw her down, leading her to end the affair with Steven. In months passing, Barbara's grasp on Sheba slowly starts to take hold, with Barbara manipulating and emotionally blackmailing her, causing her attentions to be divided between her family and Barbara.

When Barbara's cat dies and Sheba's loyalties are easily divided, Sheba's husband Richard shouts in anger that her friend is being an evident pain and that his wife is being twisted by Barbara. With Barbara being left alone and angry, she seeks revenge by revealing Sheba's affair to a fellow teacher who comes to her asking her if Sheba is interested in him. The fellow teacher spreads the "playground rumour" to Steven's mother. Mrs Connolly then comes to Sheba's home and hits Sheba. Afterwards Sheba and her husband Richard bitterly argue. In Barbara's voiceover, she reveals she is glad that they are arguing, knowing that Sheba will come to her for comfort, which had been Barbara's plan to start with. The next day the media, as well as the school administration, are alerted, and Sheba's affair and her life are turned upside down by the collapse of her marriage, the destroyed relationship with her children, and the loss of her job. Barbara is fired from the school after denying to the headmaster that she knew of the relationship; he confronts her with a copy of a restraining order taken out against Barbara by another fellow teacher whom she had previously befriended.

Sheba ends up moving into Barbara's house, believing that the affair became known because Steven confessed it to his mother, but Sheba soon finds Barbara's diary and learns that it was Barbara who leaked the story of the affair, on account of the rather sexual attraction Barbara seems to have for her. When Barbara returns from a shopping round, she is confronted with a fiendishly angry Sheba, who strikes her in anger. Barbara says she has done her a favor by getting her out of a hopeless marriage. The two of them continue to shout and fight with one another, and Sheba claims that Barbara never really liked her, but in fact manipulated her for her own personal needs. Sheba runs outside with Barbara's journal, to streams of reporters and photographers. She shouts at them in a deluded fashion saying she is here and has nothing to hide, but eventually becomes crowded by reporters and photographers, at which point Barbara rescues her. Sheba has now been reduced to a emotionless depressed state, telling Barbara that she once liked her. Barbara says she needs more than a friend but a close lover. Sheba leaves Barbara alone again, placing the book on the table, Sheba returns to Richard, who welcomes her back home.

Sheba is sentenced to 10 months, and the last scene is Barbara meeting another younger woman who is reading a newspaper reporting the Sheba affair. Barbara says she used to know Sheba, but then says she didn't know her well. Barbara quickly introduces herself, and the other woman introduces herself as Annabelle. The pair continue to talk.


Actor Role
Judi Dench Barbara Covett
Cate Blanchett Bathsheba "Sheba" / "Bash" Hart
Tom Georgeson Ted Mawson
Michael Maloney Sandy Pabblem
Joanna Scanlan Sue Hodge
Shaun Parkes Bill Rumer
Emma Kennedy Linda
Andrew Simpson Steven Connolly
Phil Davis Brian Bangs
Bill Nighy Richard Hart
Juno Temple Polly Hart
Max Lewis Ben Hart

Differences from the novel

  • The novel is narrated from the perspective of Barbara, who is shown to be an imperfect narrator, while the film presents a more objective depiction of events. In the novel, Barbara depicts the other characters in a strongly cynical light, and takes care to justify herself as blameless. The film depicts Barbara more critically, and the other characters in a more favourable light.
  • The ending in the film differs. Sheba returns to her family and, eventually, a prison sentence while Barbara is left alone and, it would seem, befriends someone else. The ending in the novel is much more open-ended — Barbara and Sheba stay together and Sheba is, it would appear to be, emotionally dependent on Barbara. It is not revealed whether or not Sheba is imprisoned, and Annabelle (Barbara's supposed new friend) isn't featured in the novel.
  • In the film, Barbara is frequently seen writing in her diary. In the novel, there is no diary. The novel is epistolary and takes the form of a manuscript, written by Barbara, recording the entire events.
  • In the film, Sheba is portrayed as a caring woman, despite her indiscretions, whereas in the novel she is a lot less likeable and notably more selfish. For instance, in the film, she is reluctant to accompany Barbara to the vet (to put down her terminally ill cat) because her son is in a school play. In the novel, it is so she can meet up with Steven.
  • In the film, Barbara discovers the affair between Sheba and Steven on the night of a school play. In the book, it is on Bonfire Night, and Sheba actually confesses the affair to Barbara.
  • In the film, there are several indications that Barbara wishes to pursue a sexual relationship with Sheba. The references to this desire in the novel are more opaque and uncertain.
  • In the book, Barbara mentions having some nieces and nephews, with whom she has a warm, if distant, relationship and mentions visiting them from time to time. There is no suggestion of them in the film.
  • The film focuses primarily on the relationship between Barbara and Sheba. The novel focuses more on the supporting characters, such as Barbara's sister and Sheba's family, as well as the other teachers at St. George's School.


The film features a song by Toots & The Maytals.


Critical reaction

The film opened to generally positive reviews, receiving a Rotten Tomatoes certified fresh rating of 87 percent. The Guardian called the film a "delectable adaptation" with "tremendous acting from Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, with many blue-chip supporting contributions and a "screenwriting masterclass from Patrick Marber". The Times praised the film, saying: "Notes on a Scandal, is screenwriting at its vicious best... Richard Eyre directs the film like a chamber play. He leans on Philip Glass’s ever-present and insistent music like a crutch. But his natural gift for framing scenes is terrifically assured. A potent and evil pleasure."

American publications also gave the film acclaim, with the Los Angeles Times describing the film as "Sexy, aspirational and post-politically correct, Notes on a Scandal could turn out to be the Fatal Attraction of the noughties." The Washington Post noted the "dark brilliance" and that it "offers what is possibly the only intelligent account of such a disaster ever constructed, with a point of view that is somewhat gimlet-eyed and offered with absolutely no sentimentality whatsoever." The reviewer also identified the film as a "study in the anthropology of British liberal-left middle-class life." Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert heaped praise on the film and the acting performances "Perhaps the most impressive acting duo in any film of 2006. Dench and Blanchett are magnificent. ‘Notes on a Scandal’ is whip-smart, sharp and grown up."


The film was also a commercial success. It grossed $49,752,391 worldwide, exceeding its £15 million budget.

Awards and nominations

79th Academy Awards nominees:
  • Nominated: Best Actress — Judi Dench
  • Nominated: Best Supporting Actress — Cate Blanchett
  • Nominated: Best Adapted Screenplay — Patrick Marber
  • Nominated: Best Original Score — Philip Glass

BAFTA Awards
  • Nominated: Best British Film
  • Nominated: Best Actress — Judi Dench
  • Nominated: Best Adapted Screenplay — Patrick Marber

British Independent Film Awards
  • Nominated: Best British Independent Film
  • Won: Best Performance by an Actress in a British Independent Film — Judi Dench
  • Nominated: Best Performance by a Supporting Actor or Actress in a British Independent Film — Cate Blanchett
  • Won: Best Screenplay — Patrick Marber

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards
  • Nominated: Best Actress — Judi Dench
  • Nominated: Best Picture
  • Nominated: Best Supporting Actress — Cate Blanchett

Chicago Film Critics Association Awards
  • Nominated: Best Actress — Judi Dench
  • Nominated: Best Supporting Actress — Cate Blanchett
  • Nominated: Best Adapted Screenplay — Patrick Marber
  • Nominated: Best Original Score

Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards
  • Won: Best Supporting Actress — Cate Blanchett

Evening Standard British Film Awards
  • Won: Best Actress — Judi Dench

Florida Film Critics Circle Awards
  • Won: Best Supporting Actress — Cate Blanchett

Golden Globe Awards
  • Nominated: Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama — Judi Dench
  • Nominated: Best Supporting Actress — Cate Blanchett
  • Nominated: Best Screenplay — Patrick Marber

London Film Critics Circle Awards
  • Nominated: Actress of the Year — Judi Dench
  • Nominated: British Actress of the Year — Judi Dench
  • Nominated: British Supporting Actor of the Year — Bill Nighy

Oklahoma Film Critics Circle Awards
  • Won: Best Supporting Actress — Cate Blanchett

Online Film Critics Awards
  • Nominated: Best Actress — Judi Dench
  • Nominated: Best Supporting Actress — Cate Blanchett
  • Nominated: Best Original Score — Phillip Glass

Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards
  • Won: Best Supporting Actress — Cate Blanchett

Screen Actors Guild Awards
  • Nominated: Best Actress — Judi Dench
  • Nominated: Best Supporting Actress — Cate Blanchett

Toronto Film Critics Association Awards
  • Won: Best Supporting Actress — Cate Blanchett


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