One would think that World War II true stories well would never run dry - but here we are, faced with a completely fabricated story, a film based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Rhidian Brook. Oh dear. After seeing ‘The Aftermath’, I can only pray that after its release I hear a chorus of, “the book was better” - otherwise what the hell were they thinking!?
It’s winter, Hamburg, 1946. Rachael (Keira Knightley, ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’, ‘Colette’) arrives and is greeted awkwardly by her husband Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke, ‘Pet Sematary’, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’), a Colonel in the British Forces sent to help clean up and rebuild the broken city. The British Forces have commandeered the luxurious home of a former architect, Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård, ‘War On Everyone’, TV's 'True Blood' and 'Big Little Lies'), for the Morgans to live in. The sympathetic Lewis has asked Stefan and his troubled teenage daughter Freda to stay on in the house, much to Rachel’s dismay, so long as they stick to their “zone”. With Lewis constantly away with work, Rachael and Stefan find themselves constantly crossing paths. Rachael’s very black-and-white view of the war and the Germans leads to poorly veiled contempt for her housemate, but soon urges take over as the pair find solace in each other, each dealing with their own grief, loss and loneliness.
Beautiful people engaged in a love affair with a post WWII backdrop - shut up and take my money. However, with only one sex scene to speak of, this is for the prudish crowd. If far-off looks, gazing at each other through windows, and what passes as pensive moments staring at your own reflection in a mirror is what gets you weak at the knees, then this is the movie for you. I realise this review comes off as cavalier for a WWII film, but that’s because this movie is stupid. Embarrassing. Clichéd. I spent an inordinate amount of time pondering just how much of the shoot was dedicated to filming Keira Knightley walk from one spot in a room to another, and also wondering if the choice for her to constantly have her shoulders up by ears was hers or the director James Kent's? I actually had to stop myself from laughing many times, but I did watch the whole film with a stupid look on my face as if to say, “Is this for real?” My incredulousness came mostly from watching Knightley cry in a bath, and I kid you not, there is a scene where Keira stares at Alexander from a window while he chops wood! From that moment on, I was a goner. Please see below the imaginary interaction I envisioned between James Kent and a producer...
KENT: OK Alex that was great, now can we try a take with your shirt off?
PRODUCER: Um James, I don’t think that’s a good idea.
KENT: Why? He’s hot. Keira needs to lust after him.
PRODUCER: Ummmm... Sure, but you see, this movie is set during winter. See all the snow on the ground? I don’t think it’s practical for a man to be shirtless in this weather.
KENT: But chopping wood makes a man hot.
PRODUCER: Yeaaaaaah true but I just don’t think it makes someone that hot. It is literally 0 degrees out here.
KENT: Alright fine! This is stupid, but fine.
PRODUCER: Good boy.
I realise this review come off as cavalier for a WWII film but that’s because this movie is stupid. Embarrassing. Cliche.
‘The Aftermath’ plays like a romance, only it’s not a romance. It plays like a sympathetic, tragedy post-WWII film, only there’s too much contrived romance for that to ring true. What a mess. Plus there's a secondary storyline involving the daughter which could have been lifted right out and no one would notice, as well as a weak story device involving Rachel’s friends and a colleague of Lewis’ where they’re shoved in whenever the film needed a boost or simply a break from all that wistful staring.
Look, there are so many incredible war films, and most of them are based on true stories, so why waste your time with this almost Harlequin wannabe disguised as a war tragedy?