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Cold Passion Play: A Review Of 'The Aftermath'

The Aftermath is an old-fashioned historical romantic drama that speaks of grief, passion, betrayal, forgiveness, and second chances. Based on the 2013 bestselling novel of Rhidian Brook, the film is directed by James Kent with a very British stiff upper lip. And thanks to his more than competent cast of the always watchable Keira Knightley and Alexander Skarsgård, supported by Jason Clarke, it manages to be a ride that percolates and chugs along even if at times, you wished it would ignite and boil over.



Set in a wintry, ravaged, and post-World War II Hamburg right after the incessant air raids pushed the Germans to capitulate, the story centers on a British Colonel, Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) who’s in charge of the rebuilding and de-Nazification of the Hamburg district occupied by the British forces. History fiends will recall that after the war, the Allied forces basically carved up Germany among themselves. Into this scenario, Lewis calls for his wife Rachael (Keira Knightley) to join him, and she’s a mother still grieving for the young son she lost during the war, a bombing casualty. As was the custom, the victors could requisition the best homes left intact, and the couple take over a stately mansion occupied by German architect Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård), his teenage daughter, and some servants. 



The story picks up steam when against the wishes of his wife, who obviously bears strong resentment towards the Germans, Lewis allows Stefan and daughter to occupy the attic of their house, rather than become the displaced persons they were fated to be. Much is made of this misguided humanist quality of Lewis, and how a simplistic "to the victors go the spoils" attitude would have been more prudent. 

As the two most attractive persons in the cast, it doesn’t take much movie-IQ to figure out that before long Rachael and Stefan will fall into each other’s arms. Discovering that Stefan is a widower, and his wife expired during the bombings helps thaw Rachael’s disposition towards the Germans, recognition that they’re both suffering, and are victims of the oblivious war that has just passed. And it helps that Lewis is an unfeeling, devoted-to-duty automaton, who didn’t even take sympathetic leave when news of his son’s death came through, staying on the front rather than heading home to comfort his wife.


It’s the screenplay written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse that I feel fails to ignite this adaptation into something more passionate and fiery as befits the subject matter. There’s almost too much of an effort to keep things tasteful and modulated. When recent period dramas such as The Favourite showed us you can breathe new life into these dramas, here’s The Aftermath playing far too genteel and muted, like something you’d catch as a made-for-TV movie in the 1980s. 


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And it is a shame, as much attention has been placed on period details in wardrobe, location, and set design. Loved the use of a Mies van der Rohe chair, the knits and cardigans Knightley wears, and how a butterscotch honey-hued gown she dons makes such a stirring statement in a pivotal scene. I was tempted to call this review "In the Land of Knits and Honey."

So if it’s old-school drama you’re after, The Aftermath satisfies. I just wished things wouldn’t just perpetually smolder, but intensify and explode, even once.


Photos from iMDb