Dame Judi Dench plays Barbara, an old, stern teacher, who is single and lonely. Cate Blanchett is Sheba, the new hottie art teacher, married with two kids. The two bond as the older one looks out for the new one. One of the students, a 15-year-old, develops a crush on the art teacher and when their affair is chanced upon by Barbara, she agrees to keep it secret from the school headmaster so long as Sheba ends the relationship, with the hope and expectation that Sheba will increase the closeness but also the intimacy, of their growing friendship.
Barbara is creepy with an increasingly unhealthy obsession for Sheba, perhaps based on lesbian feelings, and this is exacerbated by her loneliness, having only an old cat as her companion. Judi Dench is excellent in this role. Cate Blanchett is also strong. Her character is a bit bored with her marriage and when the student takes a fancy to her, it sets off a fire within that has been dormant for a while. Bill Nighy played the role of Sheba's husband, a former teacher of hers, twenty years her senior (and in real life, too) and showed that he is also superb at playing drama, in addition to his recent comedic roles.
Notes On A Scandal doesn't have the over-the-top feel of say, Single White Female, another film in which one woman becomes obsessed with another, and that is a plus. You can tell it wasn't a slick, overly calculated Hollywood film. This isn't a feel-good film by any means, but it provides insight into human vulnerability and the unbalanced minds of those who would prey upon it.
Director Richard Eyre also directed Dame Judi Dench in 2001's Iris, in which she lost the Best Actress Oscar to Halle Berry for Monster's Ball. Screen writer Patrick Marber is probably best known for 2004's drama Closer. Novelist Zoe Hellerwas shorlisted for a 2003 Man Booker Prize for her second novel, Notes On A Scandal, upon which this film is based.