Set in postwar Germany in 1946, Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) arrives in the ruins of Hamburg in the bitter winter, to be reunited with her husband Lewis (Jason Clarke), a British colonel charged with rebuilding the shattered city. But as they set off for their new home, Rachael is stunned to discover that Lewis has made an unexpected decision: They will be sharing the grand house with its previous owners, a German widower (Alexander Skarsgård) and his troubled daughter. In this charged atmosphere, enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal.Written by
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Interesting at times, but neither a powerful romance nor an impressive historical drama
This is a great example of how a film can try to juggle and blend two different genres, and despite never really getting either perfect, can still offer up interesting and engaging drama. As a result, The Aftermath is far from a perfect film, and its frustrating misfocus given the potential of its historical setting makes for an often underwhelming watch. However, it still has the elegance, dramatic intrigue and often even emotion to keep you engaged throughout, ultimately making for a thoroughly watchable, but not exceptional, film.
So, the two ideas and genres that the film attempts to balance and bring together are romantic drama and pure history, and it's the historical side that I'd like to start off with, because while the film features some fascinating historical themes, it also fails to capitalise on the genuinely enthralling potential of its setting.
Set in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the film centres on the relations and tensions between the British occupiers and local German citizens, with emotions and suspicion still running high following six years of all-out war. In that, the film looks at both the continuing negative feelings between both peoples, brought to life early on by Keira Knightley, as well as the idea that, with the war over, there is no need for recriminations in the face of a rebuilding project for the better of all, which we see in Jason Clarke's character early on.
Now, while the movie does occasionally hit those beats in a little too on-the-nose (especially when compared with how the same ideas are presented in the brilliant Land Of Mine), it's not quite as clear-cut as you may expect. Subverting expectations by reversing the stereotypical roles and seeing the patriarch hold more sympathy to the Germans, with his wife holding onto more antagonistic feelings following the war, The Aftermath does offer up some genuinely intriguing historical discourse, which builds to fascinating and often even palpably tense heights towards the end of the first act.
However, the biggest disappointment about this film is that it doesn't follow through. Despite a strong start from the historical point of view, its second and third acts don't offer all that much more on the same plain, with focus shifting abruptly to a romance that, while perfectly pleasant and enjoyable, just doesn't have the depth or intrigue to prove really impressive.
Of course, that's not to say that the entire historical context goes out the window, and the romance that develops still focuses on the idea of relationships crossing political lines - similarly looked at in films like Suite Française. However, it's far closer to a generic period romance, rather than one that blends historical themes in to further what was developed earlier on.
As a result, the film grinds to a little bit of underwhelming halt as it edges towards a rather predictable finale. It's not a boring watch, and with strong performances from Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke and Alexander Skarsgård, there is still intrigue and entertainment to find, but it all feels a rather frustrating and disappointing approach given the potential of the opening act's historical focus.
If you're looking for a nice romantic drama, this film can prove an enjoyable watch, but you'll have to wait quite a while for the romance to start in earnest. On the flipside, if you're looking for a historical drama that depicts the aftermath of the Second World War (as I was), the film starts off in strong fashion, but its move towards romance later on will likely leave you disappointed.
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