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| 3 April 2019 | Reply

Written by Joe Shrapnel , Anna Waterhouse & Rhidian Brook 
Directed by James Kent
Starring Keira Knightly, Jason Clarke, Alexander Skarsgård
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

In the devastated wasteland of Hamburg just five months after the cessation of formal hostilities against the Germans in 1945, piles of rubble and bodies line the freezing streets and the people starve and search for lost loved ones. A resistance movement – often with 88 carved into their arms (for the eighth letter of the alphabet, signifying HH for Heil Hitler) – organise protests and murder the occupying British forces where they can, despite the futility of their efforts.

Into this terrible place swans Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley), struggling after the death of her son in a bombing raid upon London. Rachael’s hubby Lewis (Jason Clarke) is an officer in the British armed forces who have custody of the city, but he is emotionally unavailable and they deal with their grief acrimoniously.

When Rachael arrives, the Morgans requisition the lavish mansion of former architect Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) and daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann), who they almost immediately allow to live in the attic and have full access to the house even while Rachael is alone. Mrs Lubert died in the Hamburg bombings, so despite initial animosity, Rach and Steve have something in common, not that it comes up in conversation directly.

After a promising start and some real intrigue in seeing the German point of view in the aftermath of the war, especially the dramatic possibilities of the 88-ers, at this point the film soon plummets into a comically melodramatic mess.

Look away if the thought of an adult take on Downtown Abbey (or an M-rated wartime 50 Shades, for that matter, for The Aftermath seems to take its stylistic tips from a myriad of superior sources) intrigues you, because this way spoilers lie.

After her arrival with one tiny suitcase (which carried her late son’s jumper) Rachael clothes-horses her way around the enormous house in the countryside, and through British army society functions, in enough clothes to fill a couple of wardrobes. Hubby all but ignores her, and her and Lubert make painfully obvious eyes at each other, escalating their inevitable relationship for no adequate or believable reason until they’re smiling and bonking like they’ve known each other for years and hubby never existed.

What seems to be a day later, Lubert demands Rachael leave hubby and leave with him and Freda. To where, we have no idea. Astonishingly, Rachael is keen, but Lewis comes to an even more astonishing conclusion based on no facts at all and calls her out on it at a fancy party in front of all of his superior and subordinate officers and their wives.

As we speed towards a vapidly unsatisfying emotional climax, Rachael develops amnesia. She leaves her purse in the ladies room at the party, even before Lewis has accused her, rightly, of infidelity, and when she and Lubert are about to board a train to who-knows-where with Freda, she leaves her teensy suitcase behind when she changes her mind.

The film ends with her magically reappearing at the country house, walking through the snow-bound woods to a tearful reunion with hubby, without the merest hint of a taxi, uber, magic carpet or an ounce of sweat from what must have been a walk of several miles at the very least.

The only part of this shallow, boring film that has any resonance is the aforementioned resistance movement, and the young Lubert girl’s falling in with a dodgy member of them, but even then the repercussions of her actions are barely touched on, such is the lack of exploration of her character and her actions.

If the film had concentrated on the local resistance and the plight of the civilians in the aftermath of a war, this could have been a really good thriller. If it had focussed on the romance it might have managed a Lady Chatterley’s Lover kind of vibe. By bouncing between the two it does neither particularly well, and the romance especially is laughably one dimensional.

It takes a lot more than Knightly wafting wanly and wearing some pretty dresses, and Skarsgård taking his shirt off, to make a halfway decent movie.

Category: Movie & Theatre Reviews

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