Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Film comment: Notes On A Scandal

Basic Instinct all over again

THE KILLING OF SISTER GILBERT. Sky Gilbert sees shades of Beryl Reid in the performance of Judi Dench (right) in Notes On A Scandal.

Searching for a killer film, I quickly scan the reviews of Notes On A Scandal and see phrases like “nasty” and “trash.” My interest is immediately aroused. So I go. But it doesn’t take long to figure out that it’s not just an exciting soap opera-ish thriller —which it is — but also a deeply homophobic lesbian movie. Based on Zoe Heller’s 2003 novel What Was She Thinking: Notes On A Scandal, the plot concerns Barbara Covett, a sad, lonely teacher (played by Judi Dench) obsessed with Sheba Hart, a pretty new teacher (Cate Blanchett). After Covett witnesses Hart making out with a male student, she tries to blackmail the younger woman into having sex with her.

This unattractive, predatory ol’ lesbian will stop at nothing to screw a young pretty filly. Not since The Killing Of Sister George, the creepy camp classic from 1968 starring Beryl Reid and Susannah York, have we seen such a vile representation of a malignant bulldyke. Though Covett seems uncertain about her own sexuality (at one point she denies that her feelings for Hart are sexual) the film makes it absolutely clear that she is a lesbian. The camera focusses chillingly on Covett trying to touch Hart, who recoils in disgust. The movie incites homophobia by mining cultural anxiety about predatory dykes molesting cute young feminine heterosexual women. I’m pretty sure audiences find Covett’s passion for Hart far more horrifying than Hart’s affair with the underage student.

When I protested the 1992 Sharon Stone thriller Basic Instinct, my voice was just a tiny contribution to the international uproar. Nowadays, when deeply homophobic movies like this are released, the deafening din of Oscar predictions drowns out any protest. I call it Brokeback Syndrome. Brokeback Mountain taught us to be satisfied with even the most pitiful representations. It still astounds me that a movie about two closeted straight-acting cowboys was admired as groundbreaking.

The only review I could find that protests the homophobia in Notes On A Scandal was on AfterEllen.com. It, too, references Brokeback but in a very different manner: “One year after Brokeback Mountain brought a gay love story to mainstream audiences, featuring mainstream actors and a mainstream director, where is the lesbian equivalent?” So if lesbians get their own Brokeback, they’ll be happy?

Representation has become the new political correctness. If we just get to see images of ourselves — any images (lipstick lesbians with ridiculously long fingernails on The L-Word, anyone?) — we’re more than happy. The straights are happier still (straight guys just adore it when the fags do their hair on Queer Eye and they love jerking off to The L-Word).

Notes On A Scandal proves that homophobia is alive and well. And you know what? Nobody cares.