Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: James Kent

Stars: Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke, Alexander Skarsgard, Flora Thiemann, Martin Compston, Fionn O’Shea.

Love among the ruins?

Alexander Skarsgård, Jason Clarke, and Keira Knightley in The Aftermath (2019)

1946, several months after the end of the war. Hamburg after the end of WWII was a city in ruins. The German people are suffering from a lack of food and shelter and they rummage through the bombed building looking for bodies. British colonel Lewis Morgan (Australian actor Jason Clarke, currently also in Pet Sematary) is charged with overseeing the reconstruction and rebuilding of the devastated city. He has commandeered a sprawling manor house situated in the woods just outside the city for his quarters. The house was the property of handsome, widowed architect Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard) who lived there with his teenaged daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann). Morgan agrees to let Stephen and Freda live in the house on the understanding that they only use the upstairs attic rooms.

Morgan is joined by his emotionally brittle wife Rachael (Kiera Knightley), but from their first awkward embrace on the station platform it is obvious that there is some unresolved tension between the couple. It relates to the death of their 11-year old son, who was killed by a bomb blast during the blitz. Rachael still harbours an intense dislike for the Germans for the tragedy.

Freda is resentful of the British occupying both her home and her city and is slowly drawn into the orbit of “the werewolves”, a local resistance group. Meanwhile there is growing and palpable sexual attraction between the neglected Rachael and lonely Stephen while Morgan is busy trying to maintain a semblance of order in the chaos of post war Hamburg. Morgan also clashes with Burnham (Martin Compston), a boorish British intelligence officer, over the treatment of the German people.

Tension boils over and events eventually come to a head in unexpected ways, and Rachael will be forced to choose between the two men.

The Aftermath is a romantic melodrama based on the acclaimed novel written by Rhidian Brook, who has adapted his book for the screen with the assistance of screenwriting team of Joe Schrapnel and Anna Waterhouse (Race, etc). They have wrought many changes to the source material, and this comes across as Mills and Boon-lite romance. The film deals with themes of grief, loss, the effect of war on both sides of the conflict, passion and betrayal.

The film has been directed by James Kent (Testament Of Youth, etc), a veteran of tv dramas, and he uses intimate silences and subtle, meaningful glances and touches effectively to build the sexual tension. While Kent’s direction is a little pedestrian, and the film is a little dull with many flat spots throughout. The subplot concerning Freda and her gradual involvement with the resistance group offered far more potential than the melodramatic three-way romance playing out, and should have been developed more, adding bite to the material.

This is certainly a handsomely mounted production with technical contributions that add to the period authenticity. The production design from Sonja Klaus (Prometheus, etc) recreates the ruined city, while Bojana Nikitovic’s costumes also add to the look of the film. Martin Phillips’ string heavy score is also quite saccharine and perfectly suits the tone of the film. The Aftermath has been atmospherically shot by German cinematographer Franz Lustig (How I Live Now, etc) who imbues the war-torn city with a suitably gloomy tone. Lustig also uses soft lighting for the film’s couple of sex scenes. The snow-covered landscapes visually represent the chilly atmosphere that pervades the material.

The characters are a little underwritten, although the three leads try hard to make them more interesting. Clarke is suitably mannered as the emotionally detached and distant Morgan. Knightley is good as the conflicted and deeply unhappy Rachael and she brings a fragile quality to her performance. And there is sizzling sexual chemistry between her and the hunky Skarsgard.

The Afterman is a polished and slick looking but rather dull romantic melodrama that fails to ignite the requisite emotional response. It lacks bite and a suitably edgy quality.


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