THE READER. 2008. DIRECTED BY STEPHEN DALDRY. BASED ON THE 1995 NOVEL BY BERNHARD SCHLINK. PRODUCED BY ANTHONY MINGHELLA, SYDNEY POLLACK, REDMOND MORRIS AND DONNA GIGLIOTTI. STARRING KATE WINSLET, DAVID KROSS, RALPH FIENNES, BRUNO GANZ AND LINDA BASSETT. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is an extraordinary film. I absolutely loved it, although there’s no doubt that it leaves the viewer conflicted. English beauty Kate TITANIC Winslet as you’ve never seen her before gives the performance of a lifetime in it. An Oscar-winning performance, in fact. She plays the reclusive Hannah Schmitz, a German bus conductor (conductress…?) who in 1958 has an affair with a fifteen-year-old schoolboy called Michael Berg.
The film is quite shocking in that it portrays the thirty-six-year-old Hannah as having quite a lot of sex with the obviously underage Michael. Ireland’s leading broadcaster RTÉ ONE, the channel on which I watched this, actually issued a warning before they screened the film, saying that it contained ‘graphic sex scenes.’
I assumed it would be Winslet and Fiennes who’d be getting all jiggy with it. Ralph Fiennes seems to show his muscular buttocks at the drop of a hat and, as we know from James Cameron’s blockbuster, TITANIC, Kate Winslet is no stranger to showing off dem purdy titties. But nope, it’s Ralph Fiennes’s character as a teenage boy on whom Kate Winslet is bestowing the charms of her naked body. For that reason, the film may be disturbing to some viewers. And hence the sensible warning from RTÉ ONE.
Hannah and Michael don’t just have sex, however. Hannah adores being read to by Michael from his schoolbooks and other tomes. Books like Homer’s ODYSSEY, D.H. Lawrence’s LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER, Anton Chekhov’s short stories (THE LADY WITH A LITTLE DOG) and Michael’s collection of TINTIN comics, among other things. The viewer works out fairly early on that the beautiful but prickly Hannah is illiterate, a state of affairs that clearly causes her much sadness.
The affair only lasts for one summer. Ten years later, Michael is a law student. His professor, a Holocaust survivor played by Bruno Ganz, takes him and the rest of the class to a real-life trial. Michael is shocked to his core when he sees that the woman who took his virginity and who has preyed on his youthful mind ever since is one of the female defendants on trial.
Things go from bad to worse when Michael finds out that the woman whose bed he shared for that one fateful summer a long time ago is charged with war crimes. The very worst kind of war crimes, too. While working in the hated SS as a guard in a concentration camp during World War Two, Hannah allegedly committed an offence so bad that the court is prepared to lock her up for the rest of her (un?)natural life for it.
But Michael knows something the court doesn’t know, something which might cause Hannah’s jail sentence to be significantly shortened. Does he tell what he knows? Or does he keep his own counsel and thereby have to live with the consequences for the rest of both his and Hannah’s lives…? With a heavy heart, Michael Berg makes his choice…
Kate Winslet proves in this film- as if it was ever in any doubt!- what a fine actress she is. She’s not just a pretty face, you know, although her face is undoubtedly extremely pretty. She truly is an English Rose (DeWitt-Bucater) in that respect. Sorry, TITANIC joke! This is the most challenging role I’ve ever seen her tackle and she acts her socks off while doing so.
The job Hannah did during the war and then her seduction of a fifteen-year-old boy both mean that Hannah deserves our contempt, surely, so why is it so hard to hate her? Probably because Kate Winslet does such an excellent job of making her into a sympathetic character, someone for whom we have mostly pity and a deep sadness.
The film is beautifully shot and is almost unbearably sad throughout. Linda Bassett, who played the lovely mum in the hilarious EAST IS EAST, has a cameo in it as someone whose occupation I won’t mention for fear of spoilers. Bruno Ganz is terrific too as Michael’s law professor. This is an absolute gem of a film. I’m so glad I watched it, although it made me feel uncomfortable in places. If you feel able to deal with the controversial themes it contains, then you should find it and watch it too.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at:
1) ‘… BY A WOMAN WALKING HER DOG…’
2) A WRITER’S JOURNEY
3) ANNA MEETS COUNT DRACULA
4) ANOTHER FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
5) CANCER BALLS
6) CATCH OF THE DAY
7) FIFTY FILTHY-DIRTY SEX-POEMS YOU MUST READ BEFORE I DIE.
8) FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
9) THE DEVIANTS
10) VISITING DAY