Sunday 11 August 2019

Movie Review: The Aftermath (2019)

A drama and romance set in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, The Aftermath explores the fresh scars of war at a personal level against the backdrop of wide scale destruction.

A few months after the Allied victory, Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) joins her husband Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) of the British Army in Hamburg, where he is stationed to help in the rebuilding process of an essentially destroyed city. They take over the intact suburban mansion of local architect and arts lover Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) and his daughter Freda. Lewis invites the Luberts to stay and live in the attic rather than sending them to a camp.

Rachael and Lewis' relationship has been strained since the death of their young son Michael during the Blitz. Equally, Stefan and Freda are grieving the loss of his wife, who died in the 1943 firebombing of Hamburg. With Lewis frequently away chasing down Hitler's last loyalists, Rachael and Stefan develop a mutual attraction and start a torrid affair. Meanwhile Freda falls in with a group of youth intent on continuing the war with hit-and-run strikes on Allied targets.

The Aftermath is old-fashioned in a generally admirable way, and looks gorgeous in creating a sense of time and place. A bombed-out Hamburg populated by hollow-eyed and near-starving war survivors put to work clearing up the rubble is juxtaposed with the eloquent Lubert mansion, decorated with the latest architectural delights available to the upper echelons of 1940s German society.

But the film's weakness is also strongly associated with its sense of nostalgia. Absent a couple steamy sex scenes, The Aftermath could have been produced by the Hollywood of the late 1940s or early 1950s. The pacing is slow, the dialogue repressed, and the emotions, once they emerge, are theatrically overclocked. Director James Kent is unable to tease out much narrative sophistication from the Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse adaptation of Rhidian Brook's novel.

The story is just about strong enough to stand on its own, the sense of personal loss within both families echoing the greater calamity of a world war that left entire cities in rubble. Flashes of victor's triumphalism and the resoluteness of the vanquished are evident, but quickly confined to the shadows of a greater common tragedy.

Kent does find a few scenes with palpable resonance, one highlight featuring the piano as a unifying instrument of soulful loss bringing Rachael and Freda closer together.

The romance elements combine classic misery-loves-company and neglected wife themes, with Keira Knightley better than Alexander Skarsgård at finding and selling the internal emptiness, in her case stemming from a husband who took refuge in emotional neglect rather than face the loss of his son.

As elegant as it is predictable, The Aftermath laments the intimate and immense carnage of a devastating conflict.

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