The story, though, is relayed from the point of view of Barbara (Judi Dench), a cynical history teacher at St. George's who initially meets Sheba's arrival with severe skepticism, then irrational jealousy and finally unhealthy obsession. The pair forms an unlikely friendship, and, when Barbara uncovers Sheba's indiscretion, she senses an opportunity to secure their bond. Her daily diary entries detailing these developments serve as fodder for the overbearing voiceover the film employs.
The performances here are uniformly excellent, especially Dench's as the self-described battleax whose stern shell at times cracks to reveal glimpses of vulnerability. But, given that the scandal at the center of the narrative is by now familiar to gossip junkies, the production apparently felt compelled to intensify the drama by amping up the relationship between the two women. What in Zoe Heller's novel, upon which the film is based, served as a subtle undercurrent here is hammered upon to a desperate degree. Exacerbating the film's ill-suited film noir-ish tone is Philip Glass' intrusive score, which fairly screams that intense emotions are in play when a slow buildup of tension would have worked more effectively.
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy Director: Richard Eyre
Screenwriter: Patrick Marber
Producers: Scott Rudin & Robert Fox
Rating: R for language and some aberrant sexual content
Running time: 92 min.
Release date: December 27, 2006