The Aftermath

 

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The war is over, but in Hamburg, in 1946, tension between the British and the Germans is still very much alive.

   

Aftermath, The

Mixed reception: Alexander Skarsgård, Jason Clarke and Keira Knightley 

 

A flamboyant, large-scale romance set against the contradictory landscape of war, James Kent’s The Aftermath explores a little-known aspect of the Second World War in Europe: its aftermath. In 1943, the British dropped more bombs on Hamburg in one weekend than London sustained in the whole of the conflict. Forty thousand Hamburg residents perished and afterwards many Germans were forced to give up their houses to the occupying British army. A successful, progressive architect, Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) lives in a magnificent mansion with his eleven-year-old daughter, Freda (Flora Thiemann), and their servants. Then, overnight, their home is requisitioned and an English colonel, Lewis Morgan (an uncomfortable Jason Clarke), and his wife Rachel (Keira Knightley), move into their main living quarters. Stefan is then trapped in this surreal limbo in which he has to answer to the Morgans but is still master of his own staff. Encouraged not to fraternize with the ‘enemy’, Rachel only makes Stefan’s life worse by virtually ignoring him…

 

The Aftermath starts as it means to go on, with dramatic landscapes, first of a train arching through the snow-blown forests of Germany, and then of the blackened, skeletal remains of Hamburg. This is where CGI really comes into its own, where we see life struggling to continue as normal, not behind closed doors but in bare bedrooms exposed to the outer world, with walls ripped out revealing its occupants going about their daily business. The film’s other great visual asset is the classical visage of Keira Knightley, now grown into an old-style movie star, with every contour, flinch and flicker soaked up hungrily by the camera. It’s a symbiotic arrangement – Keira and the movie lens. But the film, for all its flash and glitter, is not all surface. This is old-fashioned storytelling designed to appeal to a mainstream audience and it flexes its élan with aplomb. True, some may wince at a certain heavy-handedness in the inevitable, but the uniqueness of its subject matter and the sumptuous visuals make for gripping cinema. There are too many subplots and the odd break with probability, but as a sweeping romance the film sweeps such caveats deftly under its deep-pile carpet. And who can’t resist the restorative power of Debussy and a Steinway?

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgård, Jason Clarke, Martin Compston, Kate Phillips, Flora Thiemann, Fionn O'Shea, Jannik Schümann, Pip Torrens.

 

Dir James Kent, Pro Jack Arbuthnott, Malte Grunert and Ridley Scott, Screenplay Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, from the novel by Rhidian Brook, Ph Franz Lustig, Pro Des Sonja Klaus, Ed Beverley Mills, Music Martin Phipps, Costumes Bojana Nikitovic.

 

Amusement Park Films/Scott Free Productions-20th Century Fox

108 mins. UK/USA/Germany. 2019. Rel: 1 March 2019. Cert. 15.