The Aftermath, 2019.
Directed by James Kent.
Starring Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgård, Jason Clarke, Jannik Schümann, Kate Phillips, and Martin Compston.
Post World War II, a British colonel and his wife are assigned to live in Hamburg during the post-war reconstruction, but tensions arise with the German who previously owned the house.
The Aftermath presents itself in the trailers as a stereotypical period romance involving a fractured husband and wife relationship and temptation arising from an attractive forbidden presence in the house. What it actually is, is an examination of grief and the different coping strategies people use to deal with their pain. Whilst at times it’s slightly cheesy and clumsily handled, The Aftermath is an interesting but flawed film.
Rachael (Knightley) arrives in Hamburg to live with her husband (Clarke) who has been off fighting the war and has to stay to help with the reconstruction. They’re assigned a grand house but for the moment the former owner Stephen (Skarsgård) and his daughter are still living there. Splitting the house in two, tensions quickly come to the surface and as her husband pulls further and further away from her, Rachael and Stefan embark on an affair.
Keira Knightley has delivered some stunning performances throughout her career and there are times in The Aftermath where she shines. A quiet scene as she breaks down at a piano and lets all the pent up grief she’s been carrying pour out of her, is astonishing and incredibly moving to watch. She plays the isolation and desperation well but she is let down by a script that feels like it’s playing it safe. Similarly Alexander Skarsgård adds to his impressive range of work with a subtle and quiet performance as Stephen. His grief isn’t explored as much as you would hope but his chemistry with Knightley is fantastic and although their romance feels rushed it is satisfying to watch.
The standout performance is Jason Clarke as stoic husband Lewis who finds the perfect balance of emotional distance and coldness without ever feeling like the villain of the piece. His grief is bubbling under the surface and in a transformative final scene you can truly marvel at Clarke’s talent. Clarke seems to be one of these actors that’s always the best in every film he appears in, yet struggles to receive the material worthy of his talents. Here, his character is the most believable and has the most developed arc.
To look at The Aftermath is stunning to watch. Opening with an aerial shot of the destruction of Hamburg through to the sweeping shots of the city and the clear divide between the Germans and the British it has been put together exquisitely. Similarly the costume design is varied and Keira Knightley gets to wear a dress that almost (and I mean almost) rivals the iconic green dress from Atonement.
There are however a number of missteps throughout The Aftermath. As mentioned before the affair feels rushed and only works because of the chemistry of the leads and Clarke is underused. Perhaps the biggest issue is a subplot involving Stephen’s daughter and her association with a young Nazi which doesn’t really go anywhere and makes the plot move at a glacial pace at times.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★