This certainly is turning out to be a fertile year for books on the silver screen -- and we're not only talking about Harry Potter. In this space, the Book Babes will weigh in on the success or failure of upcoming movies based on books. Here's our first:
THE MOVIE: “Notes on a Scandal”
THE BOOK: “What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal,” by Zoe Heller
THE THEME: Spinsterhood Is Misery
THE PLOT: A winsome art teacher named Sheba (Cate Blanchett) is befriended by an old-maid colleague (Judi Dench) after Sheba joins the faculty of the same school in London. The older woman, Barbara, longs for a companion other than her cat. She already has a history of obsessing over other women. After she finds out that Sheba is having an affair with a 15-year-old male student, she decides to use that knowledge to insinuate herself into Sheba’s life. Sheba is married to an older man and has two children, one of them a son with Down’s syndrome. She treats Barbara like a member of the family until the cat gets out of the bag – or, more literally, until her cat dies, which is when things get truly interesting.
WHAT WE LIKED ABOUT THE BOOK: Its wit and social commentary, taking on the problem of class differences in England.
HOW THE MOVIE DEVIATES FROM THE BOOK: The movie plays it straighter and places more emphasis on Barbara’s repressed lesbian tendencies, little adjustments clearly made so that the film would translate better to American audiences.
WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT THE MOVIE: The screen version plays up an all-too-familiar stereotype: the embittered spinster. Can’t an older unmarried woman ever catch a break in this culture?
WHAT WE LIKED ABOUT THE MOVIE: Judi Dench. She is so marvelously malevolent that she sweeps you into her vicious web.
WHICH IS BETTER, THE BOOK OR THE MOVIE?: Though the Book Babes find it rare that a movie improves on the book, ultimately “Notes on a Scandal” delivers. The silver screen version of British writer Zoe Heller’s novel “What Was She Thinking?” not only stays true to the story line, it brings it to life.