|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Friday, 09 January 2009 11:35|
Director: Stephen Daldry“If you do a film about the Holocaust, you're guaranteed an Oscar.” Winslet’s own words in Extras. After years of gong-less persistence, now she’s taken her own advice, playing the part of Hanna Smitz. One day, she crosses paths with a young boy, Michael Berg (Kross), who is suffering from scarlet fever. She helps him. Once better, Michael seeks her out to say thank you. Naturally, one thing leads to another and pretty soon they’re both naked and getting jiggy with it.
Quite graphic stuff, then, from director Stephen Daldry, but the worst is yet to come. After several months of skulking about in the bedroom, Michael still doesn’t know her name – a case of a little less conversation and a little more action. Then, their relationship is suddenly terminated. Devastated, Michael is left tarnished for the rest of his life. It is only as a law student several years later, attending a high profile war trial, that he discovers the reason for the end of the affair: Hannah Schmitz was an SS guard.
Slow-burning and serious, The Reader is typical award fodder. But the impressive thing is that it meets its credentials head-on: Winslet is superb as Schmitz, subtle and understated with a convincing German accent. Never overplaying her role – high on silence, low on the resentment – she is a powerhouse of quiet talent. Opposite her, David Kross brings a touch of sincere vulnerability, a genuine sense of anguish and loss, which far outweighs his 18 years.
His older self is played by Raiph Fiennes, who, as always, is engaging and somewhat plummy. But this is the problem with The Reader; its two leads aren’t German, they’re British. Adapting a foreign novel is all very well, but not bothering to cast native-speaking stars is perhaps now a little outdated – surely Bruno Ganz, for example, is a big enough name to draw in an audience? When Fiennes can’t even shake off his British vocals, it sticks out like a sore thumb on a bargepole. If Clint Eastwood can do it with Letters from Iwo Jima, Stephen Daldry can here; his elegant composition shows he’s more than capable.
With its thoughtful and low-key performances, The Reader is an excellent take on the Holocaust. Nice film, shame about the English.