As Germany rebuilds itself in the wake of World War II, teenager Michael Berg (David Kross) meets Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), a bus conductor several years his senior.
Embarking on a torrid affair, their relationship is passionate but fraught by, not only their considerable age difference, but Hanna's mood swings. When she abruptly moves away without informing him, Michael is heartbroken. Years later, while studying law at Heidelberg University, he is appalled to discover that Hanna is on trial for a brutal Nazi war crime. As times passes and Hanna languishes in prison, an older Michael (Ralph Fiennes) begins a tentative correspondence with his former lover, his memories of their tender times together allowing him - for better or worse - to see beyond her terrible actions during the war.
Winning a BAFTA, an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her multi-layered portrayal of the complex Hanna Schmitz, Winslet's commendably daring warts-and-all performance is at the heart of this controversial adaptation of German author Bernhard Schlink's novel.
Met with a critical reaction that ranged from ecstatic to damning, with some commentators claiming the film is far too sympathetic towards Hanna and her crimes, The Reader is as beguiling, complex and provocative as its central character.
While Winslet no doubt deserved the acclaim she received for her performance, Stephen Daldry's film is not a one-actor show, with Kross equally strong as her naïve young lover and Fiennes impressive as the older, Oscar winner The Hours, the director's background in haunted Michael. Best known for helming Billy Elliot and theatre is evident in the remarkably intimate performances he draws from the powerful cast, making this intensely thought-provoking film a uniquely haunting and illuminating experience.