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The Reader

I read and enjoyed Bernhard Schlink's novel The Reader when it was first published in English. I was reluctant to see the film adaptation, as I always am when I like the book. A movie can hardly improve on any but the shortest and lightest of novels, so the risk of disappointment is not usually worth taking. Nor were the reviews encouraging. Those I read had ranged from "high-gloss preposterousness" (Mike McCahill in the Telegraph), through "cold, cerebral work" (can't help but devalue the horror of the crimes of National SocialismThereader

The reviews tell you more about modern Britain than about the film. Ms Ide, for example, misses the point in exactly the way I would have guessed. The recent focus on 20th Century history in British schools has left a cheap, shallow, impression of Nazism (and, by implication the Germans who gave birth to it) as uniquely evil. As a senior, intelligent colleague said to me recently (with terrifying complacency) "a police state couldn't happen here, we are too nice." So, I wanted to cry out, are the Germans "nice". So are the Chinese and so are the Russians. So, I imagine (though I have no personal experience) are the Albanians, the North Koreans and the Cubans. Every human has the potential for good and evil. So it does not "devalue the horror" to show (as the movie does) how a lowly citizen could be drawn into wickedness. Quite the opposite, in fact. If such horror could happen in the most civilised country in Europe, it could most certainly happen here - or anywhere else.

As the afternoon-TV sentimentalism of modern British culture disgusts me, "cold" and "cerebral" are actually encouraging words in a film review. They suggest the movie might actually be "a thinker," rather than the usual cheap tug on the heart-strings. As for "high-gloss" and "preposterous", these must be discounted for British puritanism. As it turned out, they were plain wrong anyway. McCahill must must have mixed up his reviewing notes, as The Reader is anything but either.

Mrs P. wanted to see the movie today. I reasoned that looking at Kate Winslet's naked form could be no hardship, so (though I wanted to see Defiance) I agreed. I am glad I did. Forget the sneering reviews. It is a wonderful film. The screenplay is a spare, elegant and atmospheric adaptation of the book and a fine piece of writing in its own right. The direction moves the story along unhurriedly, but economically. There are several rock-solid performances, not least from dependable Ralph Fiennes (whom I saw recently on stage as Oedipus), but most notably from Miss Winslet. She is the real acting deal. I hope this movie will launch a long career as a serious actress, even after men stop going to her films on the "no hardship" basis I did today.

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