It’s safe to say that we’ve seen more of World War 2 in films than perhaps we need. The war’s been over for 75 years and still we mine it for more narrative opportunity. But apparently we haven’t mined everything as here comes The Aftermath.
I must admit, what first attracted me to this film was its concept; I’ve often wondered what became of Germany in the immediate aftermath of the war, and this film offered to show that. What attracts me to the idea is the thought of the human story to tell, sure Germany were most definitely the bad guys of the narrative, but what of the millions of citizens who didn’t really have much to do with the Nazis? I hoped this may offer some answers, and while it didn’t answer all of the questions I had, it offered newer ones along the way.
Germany. 1946. Britain are in the midst of rebuilding German cities and rooting out the remaining Nazi sympathisers. In the midst of this, British soldier Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) brings his grieving wife Rachael (Keira Knightley) to live in Germany while he finishes his duties. Living with them is the German family who owned the house prior to British occupation, flaring tempers between camps.
I’m having a case of deja-vu right now. You see, I only just reviewed a historical drama starring Keira Knightley, and now I’m reviewing another one. Although in fairness, this film isn’t much like Colette, her other recent historical drama, it’s set in a different time period, a different country, and it actually managed to keep my attention.
Where The Aftermath succeeds is in portraying a story of human nature in the most extreme of times. There are multiple factors and parallels at work at once. I think the angle the film is aiming for is that, beneath nationalities, we’re all human, as that’s the way it seems. It shows us that there were innocent causalities on each side, and how it handles grief is commendable, it doesn’t use it to introduce unnecessary melodrama to an already dramatic film, it is used to remind us of the losses suffered by each side.
The acting is also a strong point of this film, I enjoyed Keira Knightley’s performance immensely, her character is one in constant flux, on one hand putting up a front of social respectability, whilst harbouring incredible grief, and seemingly dealing with that grief on her own.
Opposite her is Jason Clarke, an actor I must admit I aren’t very familiar with, and who was in danger of simply becoming set-dressing to Keira Knightley’s performance, he does come into his own when his character has some meatier, emotional scenes later in the film, he managed to make me change my mind on his character within the space of one scene, in which his facade of social coldness melts into an outpouring of emotion, which made me warm to his character more than any other moment in the film.
Competing for Rachael’s affection is Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard) whose character is complex enough on his own, dealing with his own grief, his anger at both his country, and Britain, but I found his daughter, Freda, to be a more intriguing character.
She is harbouring her own share of grief, and a larger share of anger than her father, which threatens to lead her down a dark path, which goes to show how easy it is for disenfranchised youth to fall in with extremism, in a startling allegory for modern times, her arc is probably the most complete in the whole film, while the rest of the film is by no means bad, I found Freda’s story to be the glue that held it all together.
It’s by no means a perfect film. There are several parts that feels like a re-tread of old territory, it’s that feeling of war-time nostalgia that is most evident of this, against the backdrop of an interesting set-up, this is no longer war time, and they stand among the ruins of a country they bombed, there are many much more intriguing ideas within that that the film misses, disappointingly. It’s not terribly visually imaginative either, I know there’s no way of making ruined buildings look stylish, but it looks pretty much like every other film set around this time period, visually.
There were also a few attempts made at erotic scenes, which I felt fell flat amongst the emotional narrative backdrop, it’s not too egregious, and most importantly, doesn’t over-stay its welcome, but it seems out of place.
Overall then, The Aftermath is nothing mind-blowing, or fresh in its thinking, but it offers a nice little narrative, with incredibly good acting and a few good lessons within it. While not being everything I wanted it to be, it offered something I didn’t know I wanted, and that in the end, is enough.