Not that you can only make a certain number of films about a particular subject, but there is a limit. Especially when you are not really bringing anything new to the proceedings. A prefect example of that is James Kent’s (Testamnet of Youth) World War II film, The Aftermath. Though its subject matter is of a slightly new variety of the story it has a very familiar feeling to it all.
Period pieces revolving around conflict (or the resolution of it) and love are nothing new. We can add this one to the ever growing pile. While I posit that it belongs towards to the bottom half of it. That despite the fact that lead actress Keira Knightly possesses a perfect look to be in a film set in the late 1940s.
As opposed to giving viewers a film or story which we can sink our teeth into or learn something from this is more like one which comes from a soap opera background. Complete with hokey dialogue, lots of longing looks, skulking around, and the requisite sex scenes between attractive people. The shape of it all is a triangle. A typical guy-guy-girl triangle.
Rachel (Keira Knightley – Atonement, The Imitation Game) arrives in Hamburg in 1946. World War II has ended with the Allies winning and she is there to reunite with her husband. Lewis (Jason Clarke – Pet Sematary – 2019, Mudbound) is a high up British officer who has been put in charge of the area with the goal of putting the city back on its feet.
It is not only Germany which is broken, but Lewis and Rachel’s marriage. The time away from each other and the death of their son during the bombing of London have changed things. They are distant and the love is seemingly gone.
While there they have been given the mansion of architect Stephan (Alexander Skarsgard – The Hummingbird Project, The Legend of Tarzan) and his daughter, Freda (Flora Thiemann – Bliss, Mission: Sputnik). One of the few who think that the Germans are not all evil people, Lewis allows father and daughter to remain in the house instead of going to a camp.
While Lewis is away working that leaves Stephan and Rachel to spend some time together. At first she finds him repulsive and wants nothting to do with him. Then, after spending some time at his deceased wife’s piano with Freda, she warms to the pair.
Soon Rachel and Stephan have started down a path they can’t turn back from. A plan is hatched and one man will walk away with Rachel. While the other will pick up the pieces of their post-war shattered lives. A choice is forthcoming.
Every year we get a few more World War II films. Some are good while others add nothing to the subject. This is the case of the very English style The Aftermath. It is quite British in nature with its reliance on repression, silence and stuttering. Add on the dark cinematography and sets along with costumes totally devoid of colour except for one Knightly dress and you get a rather somber in look and tone love story. One that does not touch your heart or really involve you in any way.
Mostly because most aspects of the story, written by Joe Shrapnel (Race, Frankie & Alice), Anna Waterhouse (Race, Frankie & Alice) and the writer of the novel, Rhidian Brook (writer on the television series Silent Witness), are totally underdeveloped. No depth is given to the characters, so we don’t understand their motivations. No backstory is given to any of the relationships or love stories, so we don’t care. As such it feels like the situation which begins between Rachel and Stephan is unnatural. Sudden. Jarring. Nothing comes to life and the film ends up feeling and looking a lot like the dead bodies which are always in the background.