Despite the promising premise, interesting characters and sparking chemistry between two attractive leads, the post-World War II drama The Aftermath results in an unsatisfying cinematic journey.
In 1946, Rachael Morgan (period drama whiz Keira Knightley) arrives in the bombed-out wreckage of Hamburg, Germany, to join her husband, Lewis (Jason Clarke), a British colonel tasked with rebuilding the city. When the British military requisitions the Morgans the country mansion of German architect Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard), the colonel decides not to displace the widower and his troubled teenage daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann). Instead, Lewis invites the Luberts to stay on the top floor of the house while he and his wife occupy the main floor.
Although Lewis has come to empathize with the starving, displaced German citizenry – to the scorn of his callous colleague Burnham (Martin Compston) – Rachael, who has spent the past few years alone mourning the death of her son in a bombing, isn’t ready to regard Germans as anything but the enemy. Still grieving her mother’s wartime passing, Freda shares Rachael’s hostile attitude, opting to escape as often as possible into the city and striking up a romance with Albert (Jannik Schumann), a Hitler loyalist who is interested in any information she has about the high-ranking British official living at her house.
In this media climate, all this conflict sounds like excellent material for a classy cable or streaming series. But Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel’s adaptation of Rhidian Brook’s book skims over these intriguing storylines with seemingly tawdry intent: To get the sexy stuff faster, as the cordially contained Herr Lubert and irately lonesome Rachael go from pushing each other’s buttons to comforting each other in grief to stripping off costume designer Bojana Nikitovic’s stunning outfits and fornicating in cinematographer Franz Lustig’s pristine lighting within just a few scenes. Knightley and Skarsgard boast the chemistry and acting chops to almost pull it off, but there’s a lingering sense that some of the pieces are missing.
Under the direction of James Kent (Testament of Youth), the rest of the narrative fares worse, as Lewis goes from clueless to fuming about his wife’s affair literally in minutes, and Freda randomly decides that Rachael playing her dead mom’s beloved piano is just dandy. The feeling that entire scenes were left out at some point in the cinematic process is as unshakeable as the sense that the complex characters and fascinating setting have been wasted in The Aftermath.