West Germany, 1958, and 15-year-old Michael Berg (Kross) meets sour bus conductor Hanna (Winslet) when, suffering the onset of Scarlet Fever, he falls sick outside her apartment. She takes care of him and, when he returns to thank her months later, seduces him. Despite Hanna being 20 years Michael's senior, a secret affair blossoms with Hanna demanding that Michael read her some classic books. Michael, as you would, obliges but then Hanna disappears and the boy is heartbroken. The Reader then skips forward eight years to Michael as a university law student, where he studies a trial of five SS guards who served in Auschwitz. Michael recognises one of the prisoners and has some evidence in her defence… The Reader's opening hour is dreadful: Adapted from Bernhard Schlink's best-selling novel, this Summer Of '42 male fantasy could have worked if director Daldry (Billy Elliot) took time to build the tension. He doesn't, ploughing headlong into an unbelievable situation: we don't know why Winslet would consider a bony 15-year-old 'kid', as she calls him, and Daldry doesn't want us to know, preferring to keep that as a reveal later on. It doesn't work because this tactic halts any belief of attraction or chemistry between the pair and it's difficult to get on board with the characters when it should be easy. The second hour, thankfully, is far, far better, boasting one or more moments that leave a lump in your throat, a lump that could have been floods of tears if only the characters and the relationships between them were drawn better earlier on. Fiennes, playing an older Michael that's now haunted by this dalliance years ago, plays a bigger part and the movie is better for it. Winslet does her best with what's given to her, but she's playing a heroine hemmed in by Daldry's awkward structure.
Watch: The Reader
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