Film review: The Aftermath a handsome but emotionally starved postwar drama

Alexander Skarsgard and Keira Knightley in The Aftermath
Damon Smith

A WARTIME love triangle set against the backdrop of a devastated and defeated Germany makes for surprisingly gloomy viewing in James Kent's handsome but emotionally starved drama based on the novel by Rhidian Brook.

Adapted for the screen by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, The Aftermath gifts Keira Knightley another elegantly attired but emotionally stifled heroine, whose sexual awakening wreaks havoc on everyone within her orbit.

The smouldering rubble of Hamburg, which was hit by more bombs in one weekend than London suffered during the whole of the Second World War, mirrors the psychological ruins of the affection-starved characters, who have suffered tragic loses during the conflict.

Director Kent ventured into similarly fraught territory – albeit during the First World War – in his handsomely crafted 2014 picture Testament Of Youth, which was galvanised by committed performances from Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington and Taron Egerton.

Bruised and broken hearts are considerably older and wiser here but the pedestrian tug-of-war between Alexander Skarsgard and Jason Clarke for Knightley's stiff-upper-lipped affections fails to get the blood pumping.

There is a chill in the air of 1945 Hamburg, five months after the Allied victory, as Rachael Morgan (Knightley) arrives in the city to join her husband Lewis (Clarke), a British colonel who must combat any residual German resistance.

Lewis requisitions a large mansion belonging to widowed architect Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard) and consigns the host and his 15-year-old daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) to the attic while the Morgans make use of the bedrooms and an open-plan living room complete with piano.

The household staff including Heike (Anna Katharina Schimrigk) are duty bound to serve the British intruders. They whisper snide remarks about Rachael moving ornaments and furniture: "She's making herself at home... like a maggot in the bacon!"

The new lady of the manor is visibly uncomfortable sharing quarters with the enemy, having lost a young son to German bombs in London. Her husband's friend and fellow officer Burnham (Martin Compston) echoes these sentiments and drunkenly humiliates Stefan during one house party.

Unthinkably, sexual tension simmers between Rachael and Stefan, and when Lewis is called away to deal with a crisis, passions boil over.

Meanwhile, impressionable Freda falls under the spell of a local boy, Albert (Jannik Schumann), who is steadfastly committed to the Nazi movement.

The Aftermath melts at a similar pace to ice covering Hamburg, even with a couple of artfully staged sex scenes involving Knightley and Skarsgard.

Kent's lens swoons at his actors in a state of beautifully lit undress but he neglects to crank up dramatic tension.

When the moment comes for Rachael to stand by one of her men, we have little invested in the outcome and its repercussions.

THE AFTERMATH (15, 109 mins) Thriller/Romance/War. Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Clarke, Flora Thiemann, Martin Compston, Jannik Schumann, Anna Katharina Schimrigk. Director: James Kent

RATING: 5/10

Released: March 1 (UK & Ireland)

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