Film Review – The Aftermath
The Aftermath is a period drama set in Hamburg, Germany in 1945, five months after many parts of the city were leveled at the end of World War II. James Kent (Testament of Youth) directed the film based on a script by Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse, and Rhidian Brook, who also wrote the novel on which the script is based.
The Aftermath follows a trio of people whose lives collide due to post-war circumstances. Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) is an officer in the Royal Army, and he has lawfully confiscated the mansion of Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) for his personal use while in Germany. Having settled into a home, Lewis has sent for his wife in England, Rachel (Keira Knightley). The staff of this stately mansion stays on despite Rachel’s protests, and Stephen is allowed to stay in the attic with his daughter, Freda (Flora Thiemann). With two families living under the same roof and from opposite sides of the war, tensions run high, and family matters become complicated.
Based on the trailers for The Aftermath, the audience already knows that Stephen and Rachel will end up having an affair. The circumstances that lead to this coupling are more complex than one might think. While their marriage comes off as frosty, Rachel and Lewis have lost a son. The reasons for his death and who places blame where are revealed as the film progresses. Stephen lost his wife to the war, and he struggles to connect and discipline his teenage daughter. He also used to be a prominent architect but is now reduced to line work in a factory. Rachel is initially quite rude and nasty to the Germans that occupy her new home. Again, this goes back to her son’s death, but also how the English responded to Germans in general after the fall of Adolf Hitler.
Stephen is the one who initiates the tryst with Rachel as he places an aggressive, yet passionate kiss on her lips, one that leaves her thinking of him in a new manner. It is their shared depression and a need for love that ultimately joins them in a new-found love. The bad guy is ultimately Lewis who doesn’t seem to love Rachel the same way as before and puts his work before their relationship.
The Aftermath is not the film I expected to see. The characters split off from the expected journeys. Rather than Lewis be hard fast and unbendable as an officer in the army should be, he is empathetic to the ordinary people of Germany as they have lost so much. He allows Stephen to stay in his home because of this, rather than send him and his daughter to a camp. Neither Lewis, Rachel, or Stephen end up paying for their mistakes. The only one who suffers in the immediate sense is Freda. She is determined to rebel against her father and the English people who have taken away her home. She ends up connecting with the wrong people and loses someone.
The Aftermath satisfies those that love period dramas and the current reigning queen of them, Kiera Knightley, does not disappoint as Rachel. Those that will see if just for Alexander Skarsgard will not be disappointed either. The unexpected character development of the three main characters will surprise the audience, and the ending is not going to be popular with many. However, this film did not do anything that would be deemed standard or typical for this genre, and that is the best thing about it.