1946. Postwar Germany. Grieving mother Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) arrives into the ruined city of Hamburg to reunite with her estranged husband, Lewis (Jason Clarke) a British army colonel tasked with rebuilding in the aftermath of the firestorm and keeping order amongst the fractured populace. However upon arriving at the home he has requisitioned, she is horrified to find that they will be sharing the grand house with the previous occupants, widowed architect Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) and his troubled daughter.
As prejudice gives way to passion, Stephen and Rachael soon embark on a love affair that will change both their world’s forever in this post war romantic drama.
Dealing with a time period that is oft neglected in cinema, The Aftermath initially makes a decent fist of asking the question ‘but what happened next?’. Hamburg is a flattened mess of ruins, rife with feral children and the terrorist cell 88 (the eighth letter of course being ‘H’ – ‘Heil Hitler’). As a frustrated Lewis remarks at one point ‘It’s chaos out there Rachael. There’s nowhere to put these people, nothing to feed these people’.
Then there’s the small matter of the lingering enmity between the British occupying force and the German populace. With terrible losses on both sides, how do we move forward and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past?
It’s a rich vein to mine and the timing of releasing a film about the reunification of a war torn Europe in the midst of Brexit lends it a particular bittersweet poignancy. It’s a shame then that despite the early promise of the events in the house mirroring those in Hamburg on a micro-scale (Rachael and Stephen’s respective losses in the blitz and firestorm as a stand-in for the enmity between Britain and Germany) this tends to be eschewed in favour of the well-trodden period drama path of beautiful people in exquisite clothing fixing each other with longing looks.
Its faint criticism to say that The Aftermath is exactly what you would expect from a post war period drama. Beautiful production design, cinematography and solid performances all round. It truly oozes class in every area.
However, in the moments that the film breaks out of these constraints it shows you a glimpse of what could’ve been and you can’t help but feel disappointed.
by Will Higo