The Aftermath fails to deliver bombshell performances
Keira Knightley plays a British Army colonel’s wife, in film set in Hamburg after the Second World War
28 February, 2019 — By Dan Carrier
Keira Knightley as Rachael in The Aftermath
Directed by James Kent
HAVING spent at least two decades watching films starring one of Britain’s biggest female box office draws, it is hard to see what comes next for Keira Knightley.
On the one hand, do we just accept that she will always be pigeonholed and, while on paper might be offered roles with some emotional depth, when push comes to shove is used so poorly by directors she is basically not much more than a clothes horse?
Or will we, miraculously, one day see her being given the chance to actually act?
It is a shame as The Aftermath feels like it could have been a film where she is allowed to express some emotion. Knightley could have loosened the shackles of a male-dominated industry and give us an in-depth character study of a woman who has gone through something horrendously traumatic.
Not so, not here, not now.
The Aftermath tells the story of Rachael, a British Army colonel’s wife who travels in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War to join him in Hamburg.
Husband Lewis (Jason Clarke) is struggling to help rebuild the city, keep order, track down Nazis and generally do the right thing.
We learn there has been a huge fracture in their relationship – they lost their son during a German bombing raid and neither have had the time together to jointly grieve.
The couple are billeted in a huge mansion – one weirdly untouched during the mass-destruction around them. It’s interior is a place where the owner has somehow managed to hang on to all his objects and maids and trappings of the good life – and it’s their relationship with widower Stefan (Alexander Skarsgård) that becomes the driving force for the plot.
Stefan’s character is, like Knightley’s, let down by being too polished. From his sumptuous home (how did he keep it all up as the poverty-stricken country reached the end game?) to his hideaway cabin in the woods, to the revelation he also owns land in the Alps where he dreams of building some Bauhaus palace for them to elope to – it’s all too much like a period version of Grand Designs.
Is he loosely based on Albert Speer, Hitler’s favourite architect who enjoyed the patronage of the Third Reich and used his time in prison after the war to write one of the best insider’s accounts of life at Hitler’s side? It would make sense, as this architect seems to have done rather well from it all – we learn he lost his wife during a bombing raid, but the effect of such a tragedy has not seemingly sunk in.
Added to this are a few unnecessary plot craters. It is a shame, as the story arc could be a real choker.
From a scene of Rachael and Stefan having a snowball fight in a pristine forest and looking like a Gap advert to the endless close-ups of Knightley’s made-up face, it all becomes grating.
We are offered no back story as to what she has been doing while her husband has been fighting. She has no war effort trade, there is no Land Girl narrative, no fire watching, nothing to flesh her out just a tiny bit. An interesting idea is hidden in here, but it fails to emerge.