In “The Aftermath,” directed by James Kent and adapted by writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse from a novel by Rhidian Brook, there is a mix of charisma and lack of credibility. The result is a film that gains from its star performances but seems thoroughly contrived.
The setting is bombed out Hamburg in 1945 after the defeat of Hitler. A high-ranking British officer, Lewis Morgan, played with authority by Jason Clark, has commandeered a large country house that stands in stately fashion in contrast to the city ruins that have left Germans scrambling for food and protesting in the streets.
Lewis has sent for his wife, Rachael, played by the ever-fascinating Keira Knightley. She arrives with bitter hostility toward Germans, fueled, we eventually learn, by the loss of their son in a German bombing of Britain. Her wrath is immediately addressed toward Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård), owner of the house, who has moved upstairs with his rebellious daughter, Freda, played by Flora Thiemann. Stefan’s wife and Freda’s mother has been killed in the war and both continue to be grief-stricken.
This is the sort of film in which the minute you see Rachael’s anger toward Stefan, you know that she’ll wind up having sex with him. Horniness very quickly overtakes hatred. Even allowing for the overwhelming power of sexual attraction, the speedy switch in Rachael’s emotions seems unlikely.
All occurs against a background of Rachael and Lewis being deeply wounded by the loss of their son and driven apart by feelings of guilt and blame. That is supposed to explain and justify Rachael’s cheating. In this kind of film, one also can assume early on that there will be eventual healing. Predictability is a hallmark of “The Aftermath.”
There is a subplot involving Stefan’s daughter’s romance with a young still-committed Nazi and his desire to kill Lewis, which introduces a weak thriller aspect.
There is a lavish look to “The Aftermath,” with Rachael’s wardrobe contrasting to the poverty in the streets of Hamburg.
All three leads—Knightly, Skarsgård and Clarke—are compelling actors. While they connect with us as performers, they cannot vanquish the contrived story that is basically just a romance film set amidst the ruins of war and the ruins of the screenplay. A Fox Searchlight Pictures release. Reviewed March 15, 2019.