- Keira Knightley
- Alexander Skarsgård
- Jason Clarke
A melancholy and passionate story of Post-War desire and the long-lasting impacts of war itself, The Aftermath is not that original, but does she’d some light on the psyches of people learning to live after conflict. Plus, it’s complete with a handsome cast and is wonderful to look at.
It’s been five months since the Allied victory and the world is trying to move on from the destruction and darkness of the Second World War. Into the ruins of Hamburg comes Englishwoman Rachael Morgan(Keira Knightley). She is there to live with her estranged husband, Colonel Lewis Morgan(Jason Clarke) , who is closed off and reticent with emotion. He is stationed in Hamburg and is one of those charged with rebuilding the city. There is an obvious distance between the couple, which we learn is a result of the harrowing death of their young son during the War. They move into a grand house, which until recently was occupied by widowed German architect Stefan Lubert(Alexander Skarsgård) and his teenaged daughter. After losing her son, Rachael is apprehensive and hostile towards Stefan and other Germans. Lewis seems to adopt a more diplomatic position, trying to not group innocent Germans into the stereotype of all being Nazi’s. A further wedge is driven between Rachael and Lewis when he reveals that he will let Stefan and his daughter stay in the house. He thinks it is wrong to simply kick them out of the house. Rachael is vehemently against the idea of letting them stay, but Lewis insists on it. While Lewis is busy and not communicating with his wife about what’s become of their marriage, Rachael struggles to cope with life and her own feelings of hurt and anger. Around this time, the tensions between Rachael and Stefan move into an intense and unexpected affair. Rachael discovers a strength and semblance of normality again, brought out by the wounded but sensitive Stefan, who lost his wife in the war. Their love intensifies once Lewis is away on duty. But their affair isn’t meant to last and will no doubt have harsh consequences if ever revealed.
James Kent, who previously directed another war drama in Testament of Youth, once more provides his efficiency and sensitivity to this emotive story. He’s got the right hand to steer what is a familiar tale and still keep it interesting. While it isn’t as deeply felt or tragic as the aforementioned Testament of Youth, Kent acquits himself admirably here. Familiar is a word many reviewers have applied to this film and I can see why. But familiar doesn’t mean bad in any way, just a tad repetitive in some areas. Where The Aftermath most succeeds is its ruminations on the difficulty of grief and how war is not always black and white. We examine how the War did damage on both sides and that the impact of it didn’t just leave people once the fighting ended. There was a whole world of sadness, regret and hardship among millions affected by the length of World War II and what it brought with it. The three principal characters are all hurting from loss and bottling it up, setting the stage for it to come out unexpectedly. There are some moments that occasionally ring a bit hollow and sometimes events play out in predictable fashion. The subplot of Stefan’s daughter falling in with a Nazi who still wants to fight for the cause is pretty boring and not at all well handled. There’s a lingering feeling that a bit more oomph may have benefited The Aftermath. But a few unexpected moments and the way it quietly yet perceptively examines hardship and the pain of war, makes The Aftermath have a certain emotional quality that overcomes a few flaws. In regards to how The Aftermath looks, it’s gorgeously shot with snowy vistas a plenty and a certain glow, as well as passion in the love scenes between Knightley and Skarsgård. Yet it doesn’t shy away from the destruction of war and the dark remnants of conflict hang with a gloomy air alongside splendid winters. Costumes and sets are also of a high quality, matching the period with immense detail and style. And the music, which is a big highlight, has a romantic longing and sweeping angle that is just right for The Aftermath. Plus, the lovely usage of ‘Clair de Lune’ is a nice touch and always a joy to my ears.
A handsome cast fleshes out their roles with emotion and clarity. Heading the lot is Keira Knightley, who has poise, sadness and the eventual emergence of hope down to a tee. Her face expresses so much of what Rachael is trying to hide and she reveals emotion slowly but effectively. Knightley is definitely the right person to embody unresolved anger, deep melancholy and bruised hardship in a period setting. Simply put, Keira Knightley is excellent in her role. Plus her chemistry with both Alexander Skarsgård and Jason Clarke is spot on in different ways. Alexander Skarsgård has the looks and quiet dignity for his role as romantic stranger sweeping Rachael up into an affair. But he’s no wolf, simply a man who is decent and also hurting from the impact of World War II. Just like Rachael, he is searching for someone to understand his grief with and Skarsgård plays that beautifully. Jason Clarke is often the most quiet character of the peace, being the utmost definition of the stiff upper lip. He’s a man whose feelings are coiled within and that he tries to keep in check. Clarke, who possesses a sad eyed demeanour and the feeling of internal strife, riveting at playing a man dedicated to his job which allows him to bury his troubles. But once they come spilling out, all the pain and bitterness is there plain to see. The two sides of the part are telegraphed wonderfully by the often underrated Jason Clarke. These three actors do their thing with admirable skill at delving into the damaged minds of each character and how they need to unravel.
So while it gets a bit clichéd in quarters, The Aftermath is still watchable as a stylish evocation of grief and the emotions pertaining to it. Handsomely shot and nicely performed, it’s far from a masterpiece, but still a movie with enough emotion to stir.