I have seen this film a couple of times, and never tire of the sheer quality of the acting talent on display.
This deals with the issue of a teacher abusing her position of trust, by having an affair with an underage boy in her class. But it is so much more, weaving jealousy and bitterness, betrayal and middle-class attitudes, into a modern day tale as complex as a Shakespeare play. Directed by Richard Eyre, this stars the irresistible combination of Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett as fellow teachers at an inner-London school.
One is new to the job, with little idea how to cope, despite becoming the center of attraction for not only her colleagues, but also many of the older boys.
The other is a bitter lesbian; hating her job, and despising her colleagues, as well as the children she has taught for all of her working life. When one sexual encounter is spied upon, events begin that will wreck the lives and careers of all involved, with the viewers as witnesses as it plays out.
Blanchett is Sheba. Younger than her husband, (Bill Nighy) and mother to two children. She has arrived late to teaching, and finds it impossible to cope. But the attentions of a handsome young pupil turn her head, and she cannot resist embarking on an ill-fated and illegal affair with the boy. One incident is seen by her colleague Barbara, (Dench) who decides to use it to her advantage. She dreams of becoming Sheba’s lover, and uses the knowledge of the affair to inveigle herself into the family life of her supposed friend.
As Barbara begins to exert more control over the younger woman, we see her bitter and twisted thoughts laid out on the pages of her diary, as she writes and narrates it for our benefit. Lonely, obsessive, and living a double life, Barbara believes that she can find happiness with her younger colleague, and convince her to move in with her. But when she is rejected, she leaks the information, with catastrophic results.
British drama really doesn’t get better than this. The chemistry and talent of the two women on screen is magnetic, though Judi Dench’s portrayal of Barbara steals the show. Despite solid performances by everyone else involved, tight direction, a great script, and authentic locations, the film comes down to a riveting two-hander as the women discover the truth about each other.