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Read: The Aftermath is ok but needs an emotional infusion

In the last week of July 1943, US and British bombers raided the German city of Hamburg. Codenamed Operation Gomorrah, the raids created a firestorm that ultimately killed 42,600 civilians, wounded 37,000 and left most of the city in ruins.

The film The Aftermath is set in Hamburg five months after the end of the war – the city is in the grip of a terrible winter, it’s citizens are on the verge of starvation and the occupying British Army are trying to mop up the last pockets of Nazi resistance. 

In charge of the operation is Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) who is given a requisitioned manor house on the outskirts of the city. His wife Rachel (Kiera Knightly) arrives from the UK and is horrified by what she sees. 

It is clear that Rachel loathes the Germans and reacts with cold disdain when the former owner of the manor, Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard) and his 11 year old daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) are allowed to remain living on the property and take up residence in the attic.

Over time, we discover that her enmity is because her son was killed during an air raid on London.  

She begins to thaw when she discovers that Stefan’s wife, and Freda’s mother was also killed in a bombing raid. With Colonel Morgan taken away from home with increasing regularity, a frisson develops between Rachel and Stefan which poses a direct threat to her marriage. The rest of the film is devoted to a love triangle with some added side dramas. 

Unfortunately the reviews for this film have not been that great. Indeed it rates only 24% on Rotten Tomatoes and 43/100 on Metacritic.


Perhaps that’s because in many ways the film’s emotional arc is stunted. While there are some strong emotional moments, the underlying tension between characters is never truly explored.  In this war-torn setting, with a marriage imploding and a romance blossoming, one would expect more intensity but this film doesn’t deliver it. 

Kiera Knightly was pretty good and managed to deliver a plausible rendition of a grieving mother who is questioning everything she knows. But the two men in her life don’t seem to match her. 

This is particularly true with Lubek. He has lost his home and his wife, his daughter is in danger and he is attracted to Rachel. The internal conflict in this man should be massive, but we don’t see it.  Skarsgård plays him as stoic and reasonable, in fact, he almost plays him as quintessential Englishman with a stiff upper lip. Jason Clarke does have one intense moment with a prisoner of war that is incredibly intense, but when it comes to a crucial scene where his marriage is falling apart he seems almost disinterested. There is a reason, and that reason provides his other emotional scene, but overall, we are left with the impression that this man doesn’t really feel much. 

I have to say though, despite these negatives, I actually enjoyed the film. It may not have been hard-hitting, but it’s still a drama about human frailties and how grief can affect people in deep and fundamental ways.

THE AFTERMATH

In cinemas 2 May 2019

The Aftermath 

108 Minutes

Starring – Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgård, Jason Clarke, Kate Phillips 

Directed by James Kent 

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