Director James Kent
Starring Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke, Alexander Skarsgard
Running time 108 minutes
Verdict A handsome but underdeveloped war romance
KEIRA Knightley knows how to rock a period frock.
But while her role in this post-WWII romance feels like it’s been custom-tailored, there are times when the impeccable outfits threaten to upstage her.
Everywhere Australian actor Jason Clarke (Pet Semetary) makes something very solid of his decent, taciturn British colonel.
Rounding out this emotionally-charged love triangle is Alexander Skarsgard’s urbane German architect, who comes across as almost too good to be true — if this were a thriller, he’d be the one with skeletons in the closet, and at one point in the story, you actually begin to anticipate some kind of disturbing reveal.
What marks The Aftermath apart from other war romances of its ilk is the setting.
When the film opens, the Allies have already won.
Rachael Morgan (Knightley) is on a train to Hamburg to be reunited with her husband, Lewis (Clarke), who has been tasked with rebuilding the shattered city.
It’s not war that makes a man, he tells in his greenhorn driver and the inference is clear: What happens next will be the real test.
Bereft over the loss of her young son, Rachael now finds herself in a ruined foreign city where the inhabitants resent her even more than she resents them.
Guilt, grief and duty put a wall between her and Lewis, who one of the less evolved British officers has dubbed “Lawrence of Hamburg”, because of his sympathetic attitude towards the Germans.
More bombs were dropped on this city in one night than on London during the entire war, he tells his wife.
“That’s different,” is her hostile, kneejerk response.
But watching Hamburg’s desperate inhabitants dig bodies out of the rubble, Rachael isn’t so sure.
Reluctantly, she allows the former inhabitants of their requisitioned mansion — widower Stephen Lubert (Skarsgård) and his troubled teenage daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) — to relocate to the attic instead of a nearby internment camp.
It’s a strange, intimate situation in which the demarcation lines between displaced former owner and the new occupiers become increasingly blurred.
The initial enmity Rachael feels towards Lubert soon ignites a different kind of spark.
All of this unfolds against a striking, snow-covered backdrop.
Director James Kent sustains the tension throughout, but the screenplay is sketchier than the one he was working with on his previous feature, Testament of Youth (2014).
Intelligently acted, exquisitely art-directed, The Aftermath is an old school romance that fails to develop some interesting themes.