A Sunday with Dame Judi Dench

We have a special episode this week, a companion to our discussion last week of Notes on a Scandal. We visit with the Dame, Judi Dench. We discuss her film career, with deep dives into an early entry A Room With a View (1986) and the film that launched her film stardom Mrs. Brown (1997). Returning for this conversation with our host Murtada Elfadl is writer and critic Teo Bugbee.

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Topics Discussed:

  • General impression of the Dame, which performances do we enjoy, what does she bring to screen?
  • Our first time watching Judi Dench at the movies – Shakespeare in Love (1998). She won an Oscar playing Elizabeth I the same year Cate did in Elizabeth.
Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in A Room with a View (1986)
  • The duet with another Dame, Maggie Smith in A Room with a View.
  • Mrs. Brown (1997) was her big breakout film. It was originally intended as a TV movie until a certain producer was impressed and bought it for theaters.
Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle, Dench, Smith and Bill Nighy in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
  • Other notable screen roles include Iris, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Philomena, Skyfall.
  • We play a game: Who said it, Cate or Judi?
  • Briefly touch ob other career highlights from her early theater work – her Lady Macbeth (1976) is considered the standard, to the current iteration; tik tok sensation.

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Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench in ‘Notes on a Scandal’

A scandalous affair with an underage boy is the entry into this melodrama about the friendship between two teachers in North London. Murtada Elfadl welcomes back Teo Bugbee to discuss the juicy and delicious Notes on a Scandal, its lineage to hagsploitation flicks like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the trope of the predatory lesbian, and why this film remains highly rewatchable.

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Follow along, stream the film on Amazon prime.

What is the film about?

From imdb: A veteran high school teacher befriends a younger art teacher, who is having an affair with one of her fifteen-year-old students. However, her intentions with this new “friend” also go well beyond a platonic friendship. Adapted by Patrick Marber from Zoe heller’s novel, directed by Richard Eyre.

What year did it come out?


Who does Cate play?

Sheba Hart – a “bourgeoisie bohemia” teacher who embarks on a friendship with a fellow teacher and a disastrous affair with a student.

How is Cate introduced?

3 minutes in. The outsider coming in as the new art teacher in school, a “hard to read wispy novice.” Flustered and a bit late. 

Box Office: Domestic = $17.5MM, Int’l = $32.3MM.

Metacritic: 73 RT:  87

Blanchett and Dench deliciously going toe to toe in Notes on a Scandal

Topics Discussed::

  • Judi’s voice over is delicious, cuts like a sharp knife. I want to quote ALL of it. A gold star performance.
  • Sheba is unlike the characters that Cate usually plays. Many of those are “exceptional” people, Sheba is messy and foolish. The vagueness in the performance fits the character, she’d even described as someone without substance “a sort of absent person.”
  •  The trope of the repressed predatory lesbian – does the film interogate it? And the differing reactions to it from the hosts; a gay man and a lesbian.
  • There a mineage to the the tradition of hagsploitation pictures like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
  • Barbara Covett vs. Tom Ripley from The Talented Mr. Ripley. Why we identify with one as queer people and not the other?
  • We dissect three scenes:
    1. The main confrontation later in the film “Do you want to fuck me Barbara?” – so many delicious lines as they go toe to toe. A scene I rewatch a lot. 
    2. By the car when Barbara’s cat dies. 
    3. The lunch visit which sets up the class conflict that the film is trying to depict, also sets up the vast difference between how Barbara (makes an effort, gets dressed up) and Sheba (no effort at all, casual, doesn’t think about it) see their friendship.
  • Other scenes discussed:
  1. ”Dordogne” post the big confrontation.
  2. Bill Nighy wonderful when asking Sheba why she didn’t ask him for help after the affair’s reveal.

Film within context of Cate’s career:

Released the same year as The Good German and Babel

Awards:  Cate was nominated for Oscar, Golden Globes, and SAG losing to Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. So was Judi + Bafta losing to Helen Mirren in The Queen. The Oscars also nominated Patrick Marber’s script and Philip Glass’ score. 


New Yorker profile by John Lahr includes this two anecdotes about the making of Notes:

“In a pre production discussion for last year’s “Notes on a Scandal,” Richard Eyre says he got off to “a slightly sticky start with Cate.” He told me, “She’d had one session with a dialect coach, and was she going to have another? I was worried about whether she’d be class-specific. Her character is kind of upper-middle bohemian. I wanted the distinction between her and Judi Dench’s character, who is petit bourgeois, to be clear.” Eyre continued, “I think she thought I was over concerned with the externals instead of the psychology.” “He was really worried about the issue of class,” Blanchett explained. “ ‘Richard,’ I said, ‘I need to work on it because I’m not a mimic. I need to sit down and work on it.’ So the accent became an issue, when I didn’t want to focus on the accent but on the meat of things.” No sooner were Eyre’s words out of his mouth than he realized that he’d made a mistake. “I was sitting in my kitchen and talking. She said, ‘Don’t you think I can do this?’ ‘ Eyre said. “She was upset. I must have been eroding her self-confidence. I felt as bad as I’ve ever felt. I apologized. She didn’t extract revenge.”

Marber recalls, “I put this line in it, ‘Where did you get my hair? Did you pluck it from the bath with some special fucking tweezers?’ She said, ‘I don’t want to say that line. It’s too funny. It will corrupt the tone of where Sheba’s at.’ We hammer-and-tonged it for about ten minutes. Eventually, I said, ‘Oh, please, just please.’ I think she felt compelled to concede to the writer, even if he was a bloody idiot. I think that’s because she’s come from the theatre.”

Blanchett / Dench lovefest in pictures:

Dench and Blanchett on set
Blanchett and Dench at the ‘Women in Hollywood’ event October 2006

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