Giving an Oscar-winning performance, Kate Winslet plays the part of a former Nazi concentration camp guard, who years after the war becomes sexually involved with 15 year old Michael. The relationship ends abruptly when Hanna disappears. Some years later, Michael, now a law student, encounters Hanna in a court where a group of Nazi guards are being tried for war crimes. It becomes apparent to him that he has information about her that could help her case, but he remains silent. Michael, now played by Ralph Fiennes, is haunted by his memories of the affair and he seeks to make amends. (Cert 15)
Dir: Stephen Daldry 119 mins UK/Germany 2008

There will be a discussion of this controversial film after the screening.

Programme Notes

Thursday, 22 October 2009

UK/Germany 2008 120 minutes Cert. 15

The first part of this film is reminiscent of a rite of passage, the sexual initiation of a teenage boy by a middle-aged woman as a result of a chance encounter. The young man is hopelessly infatuated and when Hanna (Kate Winslet) simply disappears without explanation, he becomes emotionally stunted. Eight years on, Michael is a law student in Heidelberg where a liberal teacher gives a seminar to consider issues of guilt and crimes against humanity, taking his pupils to observe a nearby trial of Nazi prison guards. To his horror, Hanna is amongst the women in the dock. As the trial proceeds, Michael realizes that he has knowledge that would refute the claims of her colleagues that she was the ringleader in particular atrocities. The Germany of 1966, when the film is set, was awash with guilt about the crimes of National Socialism. Should he make public the information that would deny the judiciary a scapegoat and link him to a woman publicly vilified? “He feels betrayed, morally tainted, ethically disorientated and unforgiving” Philip French, Observer. He does nothing and chooses to remain silent, which is to say that he rejects the opportunity to do good. The pressure to do nothing, to accept the status quo, to take the line of least resistance, to simply follow instructions, is a powerful one in most societies. His belated attempts at expiation prove too little and too late.

Kate Winslet won the Oscar for Best Actress in this film, dedicating the award to the late Anthony Minghella, one of the original producers. Ralph Fiennes’ role as Michael the innocent bystander is a stark contrast with the part he played in Schindler’s List as Amon Goeth, the commandant of Plaszow labour camp. The part of the liberal Professor Rohl is played by Bruno Ganz, who was Hitler in Downfall.

Young Michael Berg – David Kross
Michael Berg – Ralph Fiennes
Hanna Schmitz – Kate Winslet
Professor Rohl – Bruno Ganz
Rose – Lena Olin

Director – Stephen Daldry
Screenplay – David Hare, from the novel by Bernhard Schlink
Cinematography – Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
Producers – Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack and Donna Gigliotti

“Its issues are infinite and moveable. It’s a bold and challenging work.” Dave Calhoun, Time Out


“Excellent film!”

“One of the best films I have seen.”

“Definitely one of the best films to deal with the events of WWII without actually being set in that era.”

“Gripping – beautifully acted and filmed”

“Wonderful performance by Kate Winslet”

“Kate Winslet deserved her Oscar!”

“Ralph Fiennes was better on second viewing.”

“Very intense, especially after all the romance”

“Very powerful – drew an unsettling parallel.”

“A powerful film! Words fail me …”

“Excellent. Understated screenplay and fine, restrained acting.”

“Not quite as bleak as the novel but close. Very convincingly acted, except for slipping in and out of their German accents. Great photography, good period feel.”

“My second viewing – good film but rather overdone compared to the book (which I’ve read), especially the initial affair. BIG moral questions here!”

“Excellent but lots of unexplained matters, eg :- What did he tell his daughter? How could Hanna have written the report?”

“Ending (was) a bit heavy-handed – at least 20mins could have been cut. And what a lot of washing each other – something symbolic there?”

“Raised important issues but I do not think it analysed the intentions of people in sufficient depth.”

“Interesting. The film raised profound questions but the resolution was artificial and improbable. Kate Winslet gave a masterly performance as a hard and stupid woman. If Hanna was illiterate, how did she pass the written exam to become a tram conductor and fill in her way bills?”

“Close but not quite – the balance of time events didn’t work.”

“Good in places but far too slow in others. The excessive and unnecessary switching backwards and forwards in time was annoying – it rarely adds anything to a film. Still worth seeing, though.”

“It is our lack of action that causes most damage. On that basis, who is really guilty?”

“The only question is – What would you have done?”


A:34, B:14, C:3, D:0, E:0 to give 90%