James Kent / UK, USA, Germany / 2019/ 108 minutes
At the Edinburgh Filmhouse from Friday 1 March
Based on the bestselling book by Rhidian Brook, The Aftermath could have been an interesting film examining grief, political paranoia and a complex love story in post-war Germany. Sadly, James Kent’s movie is plodding and predictable and even its stellar cast can’t save it.
The film opens in Hamburg in 1946. The war may be over but the devastation of the country will take years to repair. The streets are littered with rubble and bodies. Germans are starving, living in camps and on the streets. British Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) has been charged with aiding the reconstruction of the devastated German city and its people. His wife Rachael (Keira Knightley) arrives in Hamburg and it’s clear from their awkward first embrace that all is not well in the Morgan marriage.
Things are about to get even trickier for the couple when Lewis reveals that the house which has been commandeered for the Morgans still has German inhabitants. Rachael is outraged; their son Michael was killed by a German bomb and she’s adamant there will be no be fraternising with the enemy. She meets welcoming Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) and his icy daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) and makes her feelings clear when she refuses to shake hands or engage in conversation. The Luberts are relegated to the attic and the Morgans have the run of the palatial home.
The original frostiness between Rachael and Stefan, rather than adding any intrigue, acts as a huge signpost of what’s to come. Colonel Morgan works long hours and refuses to discuss the death of their son; he’s the embodiment of the stiff upper lip. Stephan is educated and easy on the eye, with a surprisingly buff body which clearly hasn’t been ravished by the war in quite the same way as his fellow countrymen. Rachael finds herself drawn to her hunky housemate and after one kiss as an act of provocation rather than passion, they’re soon going at it on the dining room table.
Some of the more interesting plotlines of Brook’s novel have been completely stripped in this adaptation to leave a straightforward love triangle. A storyline where Freda Lubert is groomed and radicalised by a member of the resistance has been dropped in favour of a series of shots of Knightley and Skarsgård looking wistfully out of windows. There is nothing wrong with the love triangle trope and the addition of the political tension should add an element of danger to proceedings. Sadly, there is a lack of any discernible chemistry between the leads. The dialogue is clunky and the film has a sense of building towards a third act twist that never materialises.
The cast do the best with the material they’re given, but sadly The Aftermath is ultimately an unsatisfying and forgettable film.