War has a way of changing everything, relationships included. The new movie, The Aftermath, based on the book by Rhidian Brook, dives into this idea, looking into the aftermath of war and the repercussions that such atrocities have on an individual.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: James Kent
Written By: Joe Shrapnel (screenplay), Anna Waterhouse (screenplay) and Rhidian Brook (novel)
The film starts in Hamburg, Germany in 1946. The British Armed Forces have taken control of the city after the Nazis surrendered. The city is a wasteland of destroyed buildings, buried bodies and citizens trying to get used to a new normal. Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke), a high-ranking member of the British army has the tough job of rebuilding the city. He sends for his wife, Rachel Morgan (Keira Knightley). After being separated by the war, their marriage appears to be on stable ground.
Their new home is a villa outside of Hamburg. The owner of the villa, widower Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) and his teenage daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) expect to have to leave their home. But Lewis offers to let them stay and live in the attic.
As Lewis’s work/life balance starts to veer toward work and away from life, Rachel and Stephen’s relationship changes from antagonistic to something more. But Rachel is still married and British. Stephen is still a German. Tensions arise both inside the house and in Hamburg as the British try to maintain order. When the chips fall, questions of the future must be answered by all involved.
Keira Knightley, Queen of the British Period Dramas
Every genre has a small handful of actors who for one reason or another, dominate the genre. Taking over from Helena Bonham Carter, Keira Knightley has taken the title of Queen of the British Period Dramas or BPDs. Pride and Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), Anna Karenina (2012) and The Imitation Game (2014) all fall solidly within the standard narrative and character arc for the BPD genre. The Aftermath, set just after the end of World War II, is just another BPD film on Knightley’s CV.
One of the narratives that BPD fans have come to expect is the love triangle. At the center is a woman or a man torn between two potential mates. Option one is steady, acceptable, stable, but is not as emotionally available as he or she could be. Option two is exciting, new and emotionally available, but this potential partner has a few strings attached. In this film, the emotional buildup comes from without and within. Rachel and Lewis have been together for a long time, they should be able to work out their problems. The problem is that Lewis is rarely home.
Stephen, on the other hand, is home most of the day. His relationship with Rachel comes from spending hours together. She falls for his intelligence, his compassion, his relationship with his daughter and the fact that he is around her more than Lewis is. But Rachel is not a naive young girl who is experiencing first love. She is a grown woman who understands the difficult choice that she has to make.
The Aftermath is Meh
This film has all of the ingredients that it needs to succeed. A well-chosen cast, a narrative that on the surface sounds appealing and a real historical event that adds additional drama to the story. The problem is that the film is meh at best. I’ve been a fan of Keira Knightley for a number of years. But for some reason, this movie, though no fault of her own, is not her best.
I should have felt torn between Stephen and Lewis as Rachel did. I should have felt my heart pumping and my blood pounding within my body as Stephen and Rachel become more than house mates. I should have felt sympathy for Lewis, who is juggling his marriage and a job that keeps him away from his wife. But I didn’t. I was not completely bored, but I didn’t walk out of the theater wanting to know what happened to the characters after the credits rolled.
A well-made film is like a delicious cake. The eggs, the milk, the flour, etc. should all be working together to make the taste buds happy. Theoretically, all of the individual ingredients that come together when making a film should blend into each other to ensure that the audience is transported from their world to the world of the film. The Aftermath has all of the individual ingredients for a successful film, but the ingredients don’t blend together as they ought to.
The Real Historical Events Are Underused
One of the many tools that a writer has their toolbox is a real historical event. When used properly, this adds drama, tension and bring a reality to the fictional world that the writer is creating. The writers of The Aftermath have the end of World War II and the British takeover of Hamburg to use as background for their story. There is so much tension and drama to work with before the audience is given a proper introduction to the main characters. Unfortunately, this tool is underused by the screenwriters.
Like everything else in The Aftermath, it lacks a certain intensity to keep the viewer invested.
I wanted to like The Aftermath. I was attracted to film because of the narrative, the characters and the true historical events that are the backbone of the story. But even with those elements, the film still falls short. There’s always something missing; it’s an unbalanced equation that never has any hope of adding up.
I wouldn’t say that it’s the worst BPD film that I’ve ever seen, but it’s not the best BPD film either.
Thank you for reading! What are you thoughts on The Aftermath? Comment down below!
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