The Aftermath has the premise and star-studded cast to be a deep and insightful drama, however, it lacks a sense of authenticity to fully command the interest of audiences.
Period-drama heavyweight Keira Knightley is flanked by the brooding Alexander Skarsgård and watery Jason Clarke in what should have been an intriguing look into the lives and loves of three traumatised people immediately following World War II. What it delivers though is a very beautiful, but lacking, soap-opera drama.
In a Hamburg completely destroyed by Allied bombings, British Colonel Lewis Morgan (Clarke) and his beautiful wife Rachael (Knightley) move into the requisitioned house of German architect Stefan Lubert (Skarsgård) and his motherless 16-year-old daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann). Lewis allows the duo to remain in the house, albeit in the attic, instead of sending them to live in the refugee camp. Rachael is appalled at her husband’s kindness, believing that all German’s are responsible for the death of their son in the London Blitz.
Colonel Morgan is forced to spend more and more time away from his wife as he attempts to bring peace and stability back to the fractured city, leaving Rachael alone and grieving in this big silent mansion. She watches Stefan chop wood in the garden. She tends to his wounds when he is caught up in a violent process. As the distance in her marriage widens, her relationship with the German she initially disdained blossoms.
Director James Kent, who directed the 2015 WWI drama Testament of Youth, shirks away from delving into the nuances that would exist in the relationships of this love triangle. Where he focuses on the horror and personal trauma of war in Testament of Youth, he skims over in The Aftermath in favour of moments of spectacular visual beauty. The grappling of the characters with their unique situation and context is very contained and neat.
In fact, there is a definite sense of missing pieces throughout the film. It’s based on Rhidian Brook’s 2013 novel of the same name and it seems as if screenwriters Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse have failed to include some subtle, but crucial, sequences from the novel. Rachael goes from downright hate for her housemate to passionate dining table sex in a matter of scenes; Lewis goes from complete oblivion of his wife’s affair to accusing her of infidelity in the middle of a ballroom in mere minutes. The Aftermath would have benefited from a few more scenes of meditation to allow the chemistry between the star-crossed lovers to grow – a few more stolen glances and accidental touches would have done the trick.
Promising subplots in the film are quickly and neatly packaged away so as not to distract from the lukewarm love affair. Stefan’s daughter gets involved with a young Nazi loyalist (Jannik Schümann), however, the potential for this to disrupt the film in a spectacular way is denied as Freda’s dalliance is only afforded a few minutes of screen time.
The saving grace for this lacklustre period drama is the stunning production and design. Cinematographer Franz Lustig works his magic and has you wishing you lived in this dapple-light filled mansion, expertly created by production designer Sonja Klaus. Costume designer Bojana Nikitovic completes the flawless aesthetic by putting Skarsgård in tight-fitting woollen jumpers and tweed, and Knightley in skirts which accentuate her small 1940’s waist.
The cast does their best with the wanting script, but not even the expertise of Knightley nor the smouldering of Skarsgård can pull The Aftermath out of the watery, soapy place it has inevitably fallen into.
This will be Keira Knightley and Jason Clarke’s second collaboration since Everest (2015). In both films, they are married to each other.