‘The Aftermath’ is Strained & Illicit Romance During War

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – One of the roots of the sexual revolution in America was World War II (as it was the roots of many social movements). The stakes of life and death in an instant motivates the softest of puppy love to passion. “The Aftermath” takes that time honored emotional intensity into a right-after-the-war romance.

The film – adapted from a novel by Rhidian Brook – is set in the devastated port city of Hamburg, which was destroyed by Allies bombers in the mid 1940s. Shortly after the German surrender, the British were assigned to start the rebuilding process, and set up a system for tribunals and construction. Against this backdrop is the particulars of the romantic triangle. Keira Knightley continues her reliable path of deep resonance as the conflicted woman torn between two lovers, and Jason Clarke surprises as the husband in the triangle who values his duty as much as his wife. This is a consequence of another time and place, but the issues are universal, and the history is important to realize. Also a note to planners of a date night … this is a good one to consider.

In 1945, Germany has surrendered in World War 2, and the rebuilding process will be taken up by their British vanquishers. One officer of the contingent is Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke), who is assigned to the destroyed city of Hamburg, Germany, and is given an estate to live in once owned by German citizen Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard). The colonel also calls his wife Rachael (Keira Knightley) to reunite with him for the first time since a London blitz killed their only child.

The Mirror: Keira Knightley as Rachael in ‘The Aftermath’
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The couple take pity on the widowed Lubert – he lost his wife in the 1943 Hamburg bombings – and his daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann), and allows them to stay in another part of the house instead of turning them out. Morgan’s duties take him away from the home for long stretches, and the distant between him and Rachael allow the wife to fall into Lubert’s arms, and they begin an intense affair. This will all play out against the backdrop of post war rebuilding and reassessment.

The structure of the story makes sense, given the circumstances of all the characters, and the performances follow through on all the motivations for the affair. Colonel Morgan is sick of war, and he advocates mercy for the starving and defeated German citizens, but the mechanics of the war are still not settled, as gangs of survivors still hassle their perceived enemies. This is an interesting subplot of the film, showing the process of picking up a city, brick by crushed brick. It would have been easy to keep putting necks under a boot, but Morgan chose a more difficult-but-kind peace.

Keira Knightley is a perfect character actor to portray the conflicted wife, and adds a dash of necessary sex appeal. The tragedy of loss is behind her needs, and the duties of her husband have her perplexed, while at the same time not understanding the shield he has put up. There is a bit of cruelty in Skarsgard’s performance as Lupert, as he communicates his advantage while taking Rachael on the magic carpet ride. Even his softness has a bit of an edge, and gives the film more intrigue.

Alexander Skarsgard, Knightley and Jason Clarke of ‘The Aftermath’
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Like the film Casablanca, the two men are opposing forces within the World War. Lupert is portrayed as despising the Nazis, while at the same time he designed and built, as an architect, residences for high officials. Morgan connects to this side of Lupert, in his call for mercy within a citizenry who is worn down by the defeat of the Third Reich. Psychological history is as important as factual history, for it is within the interaction of human beings, who in their desperation become game for anything. So resistance, illicit love/sex and anarchy are on the fascinating menu of this psyche.

Hamburg also has a bit of show business history. In the early 1960s three British teenagers named John, Paul and George came to the dirty post-war city to learn how to be a rock band. History also has a way of balancing the scales of fame, and infamy.

“The Aftermath” opened in Chicago on March 22nd. Featuring Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke, Alexander Skarsgard, Flora Theimann and Kate Phillips. Screenplay adapted by Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse and Rhidian Brook. Directed by James Kent. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor and Film Writer

© 2019 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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