The Reader (2008) Director: Stephen Daldry

Stephen Daldry and David Hare's The Reader - an adaptation of the book by Bernhard Schlink - is in some ways uncomfortable viewing and unremarkable in the first Act. In Neustadt, Germany, 15 year old Michael Berg (David Kross) collapses with scarlet fever on the steps of an apartment building and is rescued by Kate Winslet's 36 year old Hanna Schmitz. After his recovery, Michael returns to thank Hanna, who then seduces him and they begin a relationship...a very physical relationship...which also involves Michael reading to Hanna a lot. Winslet spends most of the film in the noddy. This is where watching them feels, well, a bit *wrong*. It does feel voyeuristic, it is uncomfortable and when Hanna leaves unexpectedly one day, there is relief for Michael - he can move on, after one, great, passionate relationship that has made him a man. Or, so we think...

Act 2 moves onto Michael at law school, where he visits a war crimes trial of several women, former SS guards, who are accused of letting 300 Jewish women and children burn to death in a church. Hanna is one of the defendants. This is where the story really picks up a pace and there is horror when it is revealed that Hanna often had young women to her room to 'read to her'. Michael also realises that Hanna is illiterate and rather than admit this, she takes the full brunt for the crime and that she signed off the report on the church fire. A hard character to 'like', Winslet's portrayl of Hanna during the trial phase shows exactly why she bagged the Best Actress Oscar for this film. Hanna comes across as not well educated and a victim of her own circumstances. She is naive and her own truthfulness is played against her. She is almost childlike here.

Act 3 follows Michael in his later years, with Ralph Fiennes playing him. Michael continues to support Hanna, throughout her time in prison and by reading books to her on cassette tape. He never stops loving her, affecting his own personal relationships with that of his wife and his daughter. It's real lump-in-your-throat stuff.

The Reader is intelligent, absorbing and, in many ways, a difficult film dealing with very difficult material. What makes it work so well are the central performances by Kross, Winslet and Fiennes, some glorious film-making and a rich screenplay. It's well worth a view.