Having read and given out thirty copies of Bernhard Schlink’s novel, The Reader for World Book Night, I grabbed a copy of the film adaptation to see how it translated to film. With director, Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliot) at the helm, I sat back knowing the film was in safe hands. The lighting and stage sets pulled the viewer in as the short love affair between 15 year old Michael (David Kross, War Horse) and his older lover Hanna (Kate Winslet).
As in the book, the film takes it’s time to establish the intense relationship between the two leads, while hinting at Hanna’s dark past and the inner secret she is holding deep inside herself; which will ultimately bring devastation and misery to both Michael and Hanna’s lives.
Years later, Michael attends a court hearing, were a group of former women guards from the SS are on trial. Michael is horrified to discover that his former lover is one of those accused of the compliant murder of fifty women and children burnt to death in a church.
As the trial continues, Hanna’s secret is revealed to Michael, leaving him with the dilemma of exposing Hanna’s secret to save her from a life sentence, but in doing so would reveal his illicit love affair. Both Hanna and Michel are too ashamed to share their secrets, and in doing so, both are trapped in a life which imprisons one physically and the other, mentally.
Ralph Fiennes bookends the film as the older Michael, but it is Winslet who truly captures the audience’s imagination as Hanna, a villain and victim uncomfortably rolled in one leaving the viewer questioning their feelings on the rights and wrongs of Hanna, her actions and the prison society built around her.