catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 2 :: 2007.01.26 — 2007.02.09


A lonely planet

As Joseph Conrad noted, “Who knows what true loneliness is—not the conventional word but the naked terror?” Or as noted by Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) in Richard Eyre’s Notes on a Scandal, “People like Sheba think they know what it is to be lonely, but of the drip-drip of long-haul no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing.” In our world of 24-hour breaking news with stories like Mary Kay Fualaau and Debra Jean Beasley, Patrick Marber’s (Closer) adaptation of Zoë Heller's Booker Prize-nominated novel provides an incendiary analysis of humanity’s great adversaries: isolation and identity. 

Our setting is London. Bathsheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), or Sheba, is the new prep-school art instructor whose “beauty tethered to a frustratingly middle-class existence” (complete with husband [Bill Nighy] and two kids) meets the established but isolated prep-school veteran, Barbara Covett. The two establish a kindred spirit connection and begin confiding the details of their humdrum lives until an emerging and dark secret unravels a labyrinth of emotional blackmail and turmoil. Delightfully delusional on her lost youth, Sheba takes refuge in the very embrace that represents that void, that of her 15-year-old student, Steven (Andrew Simpson). The consummate documenter Barbara, our conscientious guide and expositor of every mundane detail, unfolds our story and all its isolation, journaling about the tangled journey from “colleague to confidante to confessor.”  And as they become engrossed in the tantalizing details of one-up manipulation, Barbara threatens to expose Sheba’s secret.

For many of us, as for Sheba, the disparity between our imagined life and our real life paints a telling portrait. “Marriage and kids, it's wonderful, but it doesn't give you meaning". Attempting to mind and mend the gap of "the distance between life as you dream it and life as it is” are two ironically paired individuals, one with the company of her musty flat and cat and the other a middle class fancy, yet both isolated and struggling for identity. No doubt most of us, with the proverbial self-imposed jury passing judgment on us constantly, can identify with Barbara’s fear: “I have such dread of ending my days alone.” For when our heyday is at its twilight, when we’ve reached “full flower”, we will undoubtedly face our own array of secrets.

Under the direction of Richard Eyre (Stage Beauty), …Scandal exudes the artistry of Oscar winning cinematographer Chris Menges (The Mission), costume designer Tim Hatley (Closer), and the incomparable composer Philip Glass (The Illusionist), as well as Oscar winning actresses Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. All in all, these artists offer an intriguing ensemble of compelling drama and poignant reflection regarding our quotidian secrets, revealing that “now more than ever we are bound by the secrets we share.”

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