A forbidden affair between a teacher and a student, a close up view into the British class system and various different sights of North London. All this is the psychological thriller-drama Notes on a Scandal.
When new art teacher Sheba Hart (Blanchett) joins a run-down state school in North London, an elderly teacher named Barbara (Dench) starts to to take an instant interest in her and soon writes down Sheba’s every move in her diary. The two women befriend each other and Barbara gets to know Sheba’s family and her posh background.
Barbara, who is actually very lonely in private, starts to see more in Sheba than just a friend. But when she finds out that Sheba has started a secret affair with a 15-year-old student at the school, she is utterly shocked.
This affair, however, also opens up a way for Barbara to blackmail Sheba once she becomes deeply disappointed by Sheba’s behaviour. Only then, the true scandal begins to unravel…
The film is set in North London and that's where most of the actual filming was done as well (except for the local pub where Barbara and Sheba met which was actually the Crown Tavern in Clerkenwell, East London). The area just around North London's biggest park Hampstead Heath is leafy and less touristy than London's inner city, which I think makes a trip on the Northern Line or the bus C11 even more worthwhile.
Rich and Poor are very close by here: On one hand, the area has an incredibly high density of London’s millionaires. Sheba’s house on Upper Park Road near Belsize Park tube station is a great example of this posh neighbourhood.
Shebas posh home on Upper Park Road. © Sonja Irani / filmfantravel.com
On the other hand, there are lots of council houses. The students at the local school are “below the national average, but above the level of catastrophy” as Judi Dench alias Barbara so bitterly describes it.
For instance, there is nothing glamourous about the tunnel next to Gospel Oak Overground station.
The tunnel next to Gospel Oak Overground Station. © Sonja Irani / filmfantravel.com
But you’ll immediately recognize it from the film as the place where Sheba and 15-year-old pupil Steven secretly meet for the first time to start their affair.
Sheba and Steven secretly met at Gospel Oak Overground Station. © 20th Century Fox.
The most recognizable symbol of the film is a symbol for North London in general: The bench in the Hampstead Heath park, which Barbara regularly escapes to. It offers a great view over the city of London.
Sheba and Barbara on their favourite bench in Hampstead Heath. © 20th Century Fox
If you make a trip to check out the park (FREE entry by the way), you may also like to visit Kenwood House, the real-life setting of the film Belle (2013). The main character of this period film is Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761–1804), who was a mixed race “mulatto” girl in the 18th century and grew up at the (then country) estate of her wealthy uncle – Kentwood House.
Cate Blanchett is the queen of acting! I think that almost everyone would agree with that. Just like in any other of her brilliant films, she delivered a most perfect performance in Notes on a Scandal, including going totally bonkers (British slang for going crazy) towards the end of the film.
Then there was Dame Judi Dench – another amazing actress of course! Bill Nighy and a young Juno Temple shine in their supporting roles. And so does Andrew Simpson, who portrays student Steven. Just like his character, Simpson is from Northern Ireland, which you undoubtfully hear in his strong (and somewhat sexy ;-)) North Irish accent.
"Cat fight" (yes, this fight really was about a cat) of Sheba and Barbara in Notes on a Scandal. © 20th Century Fox
This works particularly well with the fact that Steven is supposed to be from a lower class background and lives in a council estate. Sheba is posh and so Barbara suggests that Sheba’s snobbery also played a role in her being so attracted to her underage student.
The final verdict:
To me, this is a masterpiece of acting and story writing as well as the most authentic portrait of North London in contemporary film!
***** 5 out of 5 stars
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What shocked you the most about this scandal? And have you ever spied on any of the North London film locations used in the film? Let me know in the comments below!