The Aftermath

All's fair in love and war
6/10 - The Aftermath contains some stellar performances but fails to fully expand on interesting themes about war and love.
Release Date: 
Friday, March 1, 2019
Written by: 

Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard, and Jason Clarke star in a romance set in the ruins of post-Second World War Germany.


Wartime is often said to be tragic but bring out the best, as well as the worst, in people. It is why it is fertile filmmaking territory.

The Aftermath, James Kent's new film, deals with a more complicated situation - what happens next, and how we cope with tragedy.

Adapted from Rhidian Brook's highly personal novel, Kent's film initially focuses on Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke), a British army officer tasked with helping rebuild Hamburg from the ruins of Allied bombing at the end of the Second World War.

He is a man so moral that duty makes him dull, while his wife Rachael (Keira Knightley) is an artistic woman whose passions have given way to the grief of losing their son in the Blitz.

They are assigned the house of Stefan (Alexander Skarsgard), a German architect who is under suspicion of being a Nazi.

Touched by the loss of his wife and how his loving relationship with his daughter Heike (Anna Katharina Schimrigk), they allow him to stay on the upper floor of the country home.

Lewis, who has seen the horrors and starvation on the streets, reasons that kindness is an obligation, while Rachael struggles to forgive the monstrous crimes Stefan may or may not be complicit in.

However, as she gets to know her host and they bond over their shared grief, they develop feelings they struggle to control.

When Lewis' duty takes him away, they find it difficult to suppress both their lust and desire for normality.

Rachael acts as a motherly piano partner to Heike, who has involved herself with street gangs who pine for the glory days of Hitler, but it is safe to say she and Stefan do more than just tinkle the ivories.

The Aftermath's setting is a fascinating one. We all know about the horrors of war but the hardship of what comes next has rarely been explored since Carol Reed's 1949 classic The Third Man.

Post-war Hamburg creates an admirable backdrop for Clarke, who is uncanny and convincing as a nice but strait-laced British officer struggling with emotions he feels a duty to suppress.

Knightley also does a good turn as his wife, who would be carefree but is forced into a serious role in life by her husband, her loss, and the tragedy of war.

As is typical, Skarsgard is subtlety charismatic as Stefan - never letting you know his true feelings while still telling you everything with a mournful glance.

However, the film focuses far too much on these, admittedly admirable, performances, rather than its underlying themes or action.

The plot can be compared to Casablanca, a movie that is so great it makes for unfair competition.

But the joy of Casablanca is not just Bogart and Bergman, it is their love struggling in the underlying menace and jeopardy of romance in a broken world.

That is the key theme of The Aftermath, but strangely, too much time is spent on romantic scenes to make for a compelling war-torn love story.

That's not to say The Aftermath is a bad movie. It is a diverting hour and 50 minutes.

Clarke, in particular, is both convincing and moving as a man who stands to lose everything by being almost too moral and human.

But the focus on a fairly predictable tale of forbidden love fails to do justice to a setting that is far more fascinating than its subjects.

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