My heart sank to see Kate Winslet getting the best actress Oscar for her role in The Reader. Nothing to do with her acting, which was restrained to the point of inertia, nor to the way she looked on screen, which was seductive as ever.
The problem is the subject and the present context. The Reader is one of a present wave of works that is retweaking the Holocaust to a perpetrator perspective. The most pernicious is Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones which retells the war through the eyes of a Jew-killer.
The Reader is not far behind, suggesting through Winslet’s performance – as I have written in a Littell review in today’s Evening Standard – that ‘a persuasive Kate Winslet conveys in her curvaceous nudity and expressionless enunciation the ugly falsehood that concentration camp murderers were ordinary people like you and me, only prettier.’
The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levi takes issue on rather different grounds with Tom Cruise’s revisionism in Operation Valkyrie. And I have further problems with Daniel Craig, in Defiance, as with Bernhard Schlink’s original novel.
What we are dealing with here is not Holocaust denial. Far from it. The common angle of approach of all these works is to suggest that anyone can commit genocide – you, me, or the girl at number three. The danger here is not delusionism on an Iranian Ahmedinejad scale. Rather it is the normalisation of a maniacal moment in history – a normalisation which, if it is allowed to persist unchecked, will assist and precipitate the next holocaust.
Kate Winslet did her job as an actress. She won an Oscar. She is moved to tears by that accolade.
She should be ashamed of her role and afraid of its insidious influence on warped and vulnerable minds.