Period dramas with war-torn settings as a backdrop to a love tryst are classic Hollywood form; one that used to appeal to the masses. Even I had high hopes after watching the trailer for The Aftermath, directed by James Kent, with its superb leading cast of Jason Clarke, Keira Knightley and Alexander Skarsgård. However, after the narrative unfolds with one unapologetic cliché after another, the first impression is not great.
Had the film actually dug deeper into such complexities, the conflict could have been so much more satisfying; instead it is predictable and glib.
The Aftermath is a superficial and emotionally devoid love story that doesn’t ever deliver. Set in post-war Germany in Hamburg where all is but annihilated by the savage destruction of the bombs during WW2, the film attempts to explore the complicated and dire years that follow as the citizens attempt to resume their life alongside the British who try to maintain control and harmony. Had the film actually dug deeper into such complexities, the conflict could have been so much more satisfying; instead it is predictable and glib.
The conflict in Hamburg ensues as angst simmers from hardened Nazi Party radicals, making for an interesting backstory, but the themes of redemption and revenge are unfortunately never fully realised. Instead, the story focuses on the struggling relationships between an upper-class wife, Rachel Morgan (Knightly), and her dutiful husband Lewis (Clarke), a British Colonel appointed to the Hamburg office.
Enter German widower Stephen Lubert (Skarsgård), previous owner of the grand mansion they are all sharing as their makeshift post-war abode. They are all victims of war, lamenting the tragic loss of a loved one. The emotional strain takes its toll and Rachel succumbs to a forbidden love affair with the German architect, who is also struggling to raise his troubled teenage daughter. Confused yet?
On aesthetic note, though, the film gets an ironic salute. The apocalyptic-style destruction of war-torn Hamburg is tragically revealing and realistic, and the gorgeous costumes and set décor are beautifully crafted to capture the era. Yet these film elements aren’t enough to meet the expectations and the first half of the film fails to entertain with a lacklustre cliché of characters and plot line.
The supposed lust between Rachel and Lubert is not palpable and feels too rushed and unbelievable. Upon their meeting Rachel is prickly, spoilt and unsympathetic towards a man who has lost his wife, lost his career, lost his respect, and about to lose his family home. While fighting with his rebellious teenage daughter as they attempt to come to grips with their reduced status, demoralised at every turn, grieving Alex desperately needs to heal. Rachel is left feeling regret for leaving her life in Britain, while grieving the loss of her son. To heighten her pain, she is unwillingly left alone as her husband is called to duty. So, it’s no surprise that the two lonely hearts use each other for relief. But their passion and betrayal, although inevitable, strains to be readily accepted by the audience as the intimate scenes, lacking genuine connection, are uncomfortable to watch.
If you like Keira Knightley and want to see Australian actor, Jason Clarke, getting better at his craft, then you may be entertained and see past the clichés.
This film has so much potential, all the elements are so appealing, but with its stunted and unconfronting storyline, don’t expect an epic award-winning movie.