Oh, how deliciously campy Notes on a Scandal might have been had director Richard Eyre taken a more deliriously hysterical approach to his material. Instead, alas, his film (based on Zoe Heller’s novel) tackles its tale of women-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown with only one eye toward frenzied feverishness, burrowing inside the crazed psyche of a schoolteacher named Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) whose bitter disdain for students and coworkers alike masks a burning desire for lifelong companionship of the female kind. She finds her supposed soul mate in Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett), the faculty’s new art teacher who’s married to an older man (Bill Nighy) and the mother of a Down Syndrome-afflicted boy. Elucidated via Machiavellian narration as she writes in her diary, Barbara’s Single White Female impulses are subsequently amplified by her discovery of Sheba’s Mary Kay Letourneau-style indiscretions. Though the frigid, virginal Barbara comes across as an implausible relic of a bygone age, and despite the story’s unflattering (read: borderline misogynistic and homophobic) characterizations of its feminine protagonists, Notes on a Scandal could still have turned out to be a guilty pleasure were it more uninhibited and less rushed, its second half’s swiftly introduced and resolved conflicts far less pleasantly frantic than Philip Glass’ overheated score. As it stands, however, Eyre’s film proves a disappointing missed opportunity, albeit one that features a superbly unguarded performance by Blanchett and the finest work in years by Dench, whose cold, curt bitchiness – thankfully set free from the confines of airless period dramas – is a thing to behold, never more so than when Barbara describes Sheba’s son as “a tiresome court jester” or ruminates about unexpected erotic charges in her groin while lying naked in a bathtub.