Keira Knightley stars in a surprisingly old-school war drama, which despite some saucy sequences and bloody bits, is ultimately full of contrivances and awkward agonising.
Director James Kent’s previous pic, Testament Of Youth, was a superior study of the human face of war (and its aftereffects) and didn’t feel so strained, and while the cast try hard here, they all look a bit silly.
Five months after the Allied victory in 1945 Keira’s Rachael Morgan travels to freezing Hamburg from London to reunite with her husband Lewis (Aussie Jason Clarke), a Colonel of the British Forces Germany ostensibly there to assist with rebuilding the devastated city (and yes, this is heavy-handedly intended to make some contemporary point about Americans ‘helping’ put back together countries they’ve recently blown up). They’re uneasy and alienated from each other and full of secrets, and Clarke works hard to make Lewis believable, as he exhibits a complex mixture of kindness, compassion and coldness.
Lewis has requisitioned a grand house outside the shattered capital, and he has unusually allowed the owner, Stefan Lubert (the Swedish Alexander Skarsgård), to stay on upstairs with his rebellious teen daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann), who at first expresses her disdain for the Brits by scowling and then amusingly hissing like a cat. Lubert was apparently not a Nazi Party member nor a fan of Hitler, and he broods about in the corners waiting for the right moment to try it on with Rachael, a plot development you’ll see coming a mile off, even if you’ve never seen a movie before.
Lewis is so busy keeping the starving and rioting population calm (and his nasty colleagues from shooting the lot of them) that he’s away from the house long enough for Rachael and Stefan to ratchet up the lame sexual tension until they finally hop into bed together (and don’t worry, as all this is hardly a spoiler, and it’s in the trailer, naturally).
Apparently these pseudo-raunchy sequences were cut slightly for the commercially-friendly Australian M Rating, but they probably appeared just as goofy in the vaguely more explicit version. And isn’t there something rather clichéd and sexist about the suggestion that, once again, what Rachael really needs to deal with all her repressed trauma and anguish is a good shag?
Finally, it’s worth noting that both Keira and Alexander don’t look as fabulously gorgeous and glamourous here as they usually do, and that’s either because Franz Lustig’s cinematography is less than perfect, or there was a concerted effort to make their characters seem more like real people. Which they’re not.
The Aftermath (M) is in cinemas now