drip, drip of long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude


There is something pleasantly devasting about going to see a film about the extreme effects of loneliness by yourself on a Monday afternoon. It's very 'but for the grace of God'. I've been seeking devastation recently, and going to see Notes on a Scandal approached but did not reach the depth I was aiming for. The previews for the movie intrigued me and I happened to have just finished What was she thinking?, the Zoe Heller novel that formed its basis. I know one shouldn't compare films and the books they sprang from, but I couldn't help it as I sat in the theatre (which was oddly full for a Monday 1.50pm showing).

The main thrust of the story here is that a teacher (Bathsheba Hart) has an affair with a 15 year-old student. Her "friend" Barbara (a lonely, older teacher and spinster extraordinaire) finds out about this and uses it as leverage to deepen her bond to Sheba.

The book works very well for several reasons. First of all, it's really quite hilarious, despite the touchy subject matter. Secondly, it's less about the affair itself than it is about the delusions of Barbara and her total removal from normative notions of friendship, loyalty, and life in general. Also, you get a real sense that she is holding back details, that the account is both editorializing heavily on Sheba and whitewashing the actions of Barbara (though maybe whitewashing implies too much introspection for someone like the character). The ending is also surprisingly non-conclusive, which adds to the atmosphere of tentative happiness Barbara feels in her relationship with Sheba.

The film whirred through plot elements at a rate that felt like a thriller, but for which there was little suspense. I mean, we all saw it coming that Sheba would be caught and there'd be trouble, etc, etc. I kept finding myself thinking, "well, now that we've dealt with the story, we can move on the psychology." But the story did not relent. I was left feeling a bit cheated out of getting to know these characters and they tended to fall into stereotype. Almost. They pulled out in the end, but just barely. The film also tended to put much more emphasis on the sapphic elements of Barbara's obsession and less on the sheer drive of being lonely. Overall, it was a valiant effort and the nods for Oscars are well-deserved, but they should stay at jus that. I'll be disappointed if Dame Dench beats out Helen Mirren, but I doubt there's much chance of that.

It was a good way to spend a three-day weekend. Mired deep in the problems of someone else for a bit, even if I'm only serving fictional characters.


Ryan McIlvain said...

Your review did not disappoint, Dame Dai. What you said seems to bear out what I've read in a few places: the writing can't quite keep up with the acting. But praise be to God for books, no? (Except of course for the unvirtuous, unlovely, or unpraiseworthy books that God hates and blacklists through His servants the PTA moms.)

Post a Comment