Frances Winston reviews The Aftermath, a film by James Ken
Directed by: James Ken – Starring: Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgård, Jason Clarke
Based on the novel of the same name by Welsh novelist, Rhidian Brook, this post WWII period piece sees Knightley play Rachel, the wife of Lewis (Clarke) a British colonel. Reunited with him in Germany in 1946, they take over the home of a widower, Stefan (Skarsgård) and his daughter, but allow them to remain on the premises.
Isolated, and still recovering from the loss of her son in the war, she finds herself increasingly drawn to the charismatic and handsome Stefan, despite the fact that Germans are still considered the enemy, and in doing so, she discovers a whole new lease of life.
This is essentially the story of a love triangle. As such, it requires the cast to have great chemistry. Unfortunately, that is practically non-existent here. While that works for Clarke and Knightley’s characters as they are supposed to be distant from each other, it doesn’t bode well for the budding romance between Stefan and Rachel. I never thought I’d see the day that Skarsgård would be in a love scene that was so un-erotic (washing dishes seems more interesting) but it happens here!
This is picturesque throughout. The costumes are stunning, and the landscapes are sweeping – but it feels like director, Kent, felt that this was adequate to tell the tale. The script is incredibly stilted and uninspired, and the character-development is minimal, so you don’t actually care that much about any of them. Rachel references her dead son, and we see a brief flashback. Stefan references his dead wife, and becomes upset when someone plays her piano. But overall, you get no sense of who these people are.
The pacing is plodding, and it never really feels like it gets going. Even a riot scene feels uninspired and turgid. There are also numerous plot-holes. We are expected to accept that characters simply know certain things, when there is no possibility that they could have. Attempts to address the politics of the day fall flat, and many of the supporting characters are actually caricatures.
Romantic dramas set in this era are usually sweeping epics, but this really lacks passion, and even a twist ending, unusual to this sort of movie, leaves you feeling nothing. This should tick all the boxes. It has an attractive and acclaimed cast, some beautiful locations, tons of atmosphere, and what could have been a sweeping epic story about the human condition and overcoming grief and trauma. Instead, it is uninspired and messy, and while some will savour the romance between Stefan and Rachel, it honestly left me cold.
It is regrettable that this couldn’t live up to its collective elements, but it definitely won’t be going down in the canon of great romantic stories of the era.
In Cinemas Now! Trailer below: