Watch out. Here comes Notes on a Scandal. And what Hannibal Lecter was for Anthony Hopkins, Barbara Covett is for Dame Judi Dench.

Yikes, what a nasty bit of business this movie is. Count Barbara Covett up there with Tom Ripley on the chart of Malevolent Devils. She’s not nearly as clever as Ripley, but her heart is oh so cold.

It’ll be some time before I can write up a review on this, but let me give you a bit of caution…

Notes on a Scandal is about a schoolteacher (Blanchett) who commits a serious sin, and most of us would have a difficult time finding sympathy for her character. But it makes her sympathetic by telling her story through the eyes of a hard-hearted monster (Dench) who plans to exploit the situation for her own benefit.

It would be hard to find a more impressive acting showdown this year. Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett share the screen for almost two hours, and they both live up to their reputations. And having Bill Nighy on board doesn’t hurt.

I have a long way to go before I decide if it all works together for a meaningful, artful whole. But word should start spreading soon that Dench’s performance has the quality to give Helen Mirren a run for her money at the Oscars. I don’t think Dench will win — Mirren’s performance is already beloved, and it’s been a great year for her. But hey, if Dench can get a nomination for what amounts to a cameo appearance in Shakespeare in Love, well, that performance is a footnote compared to this one. Even though it’s just about the polar opposite of the character she plays on “As Time Goes By,” it may be her best work… I’m trying to think of something that comes anywhere close. (Iris, I suppose, would be the one for comparison. And that was directed by the same guy… Richard Eyre.)

Anyway, I won’t be reviewing it for a while, but I’ll warn you now… this isn’t anything like a date movie or a holiday season film to warm your heart. It’s dark, dark, dark, and it’s going to be hard to forget, thanks to the actors.

It’ll be very, very interesting to see how other reviewers treat it, because it has the guts to make some moves that are quite politically incorrect.

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