More than words
The Academy has been known to make questionable choices when it hands out those Oscars every February, but their decision to name Kate Winslet as Best Actress at this year’s ceremony was clearly the right one. For her performance in Stephen Daldry’s The Reader is, like the film itself, powerful, moving and provocative.
Winslet plays Hanna Schmitz who, in 1958, is a 30-something woman working as a tram guard in post-war Berlin. Fiercely proud but clearly lonely, Hanna’s chance meeting with the 15-year-old Michael (David Kross) leads to a torrid, summer-long affair between the two, their relationship consisting mainly of lovemaking and Michael reading to Hanna. A decade later, Michael is a young law student attending the trial of six women accused of Nazi war crimes committed during the Holocaust – shockingly, Hanna is one of them. And Michael knows a secret that could help her case…
As the film bounces through time, we witness Michael as a boy, as a young man and as a 50-something father (then played by Ralph Fiennes). But at every stage of his life, and of the narrative, his character is shaped by his relationship with Hanna, either in the moment of its happening or as he remembers. And, despite The Reader’s wider themes of the Nazi atrocities and the blame, shame and anger they inspire, the film is driven by the relationship between these two characters. Although it could be seen to symbolise the disparity between old and new generations in Germany, separated by a war that casts its shadows over the country, in truth The Reader is a study of the complexities of love, passion and infatuation.
As such, its strength lies almost solely in Winslet’s performance; it is an astonishing and compelling portrayal of a complex woman, who is both passionate lover and war criminal, and gives the film a star quality that it may not have had with another actress in the role. 4 stars
Two featurettes detail the film’s music and Kate Winslet’s excellent ageing make-up, while there’s also a solid Making Of. There’s also a look at the movie’s production design, together with a couple of deleted scenes and a conversation with star David Kross and director Stephen Daldry. 3 stars
Stars Kate Winslet, David Kross, Ralph Fiennes
Director Stephen Daldry
Distributor Entertainment in Video
Format DVD & Blu-ray
Release May 25