Review: The Aftermath

Review: The Aftermath

by Alan Grant
article from Thursday 14, March, 2019

BASED ON Rhidian Brook’s book of the same name, The Aftermath drops its audience into the ruined city of Hamburg five months after the end of the second world war. Amid the shattered lives, destroyed buildings, and haunted, grime-smeared faces, we find the story of a colonel of British Forces Germany (Jason Clarke) and his wife (Keira Knightly) who take over the home of a German architect (Alexander Skarsgard) as part of the former’s work in rebuilding the heavily-bombed city. What follows is a tense, often bleak, drama that explores the relationships between the two families as they struggle to deal with the upheavals that have been foisted upon them.

The first thing to say about The Aftermath  is that it’s not a film for the non-committal drama fan. It is a strict drama in the most textbook sense and there will probably be something in that style which, for those wanting a more rounded experience, kicks them out of it. There are lots of mid-distance gazes, chaste exchanges of touch (plus a full on, rather jarring, sex scene), and mumbled dialogue delivered in that odd ‘over another character’s shoulder’ way that drama fans seem to like. If any of these ingredients in the genre formula will ruin a cinema experience for you – The Aftermath is not for you, at all.

Judged on its own merits as an example of pure drama, The Aftermath is at least competent. It’s atmospheric and there is some very intelligent and provocative camerawork that takes advantage of the gorgeous and obviously very expensive set design. 

The cast also puts in a decent shift in this movie. Kiera Knightly, of whom I have been a fan for some time, is good as the conflicted and morally complex Rachel Morgan and what does go wrong with her character is more an issue with the writing than anything she does with it.

Our two male leads also show up for work and the small supporting cast does a fine job of creating a microcosm of immediate post-war British military society.

Finally, Scottish actor Michael Compston deserves special mention for bringing a distinctly Scottish menace and a unique yobbish and laddish nastiness to his depiction of the intelligence officer, Burnham. Not to get all parochial or anything so uncouth, but he’s very good.

There’s also quite a bit wrong with The Aftermath and most of it can be blamed on an inconsistent and poorly optimised screenplay.

There are a fair few clunky lines of dialogue that fracture whatever emersion the sumptuous visuals and eerie use of silence and music had built up and there are a couple of coincidences that occur towards the end, which I won’t spoil, but they do require a suspension of disbelief that feels at odds with the film’s genuine efforts towards realism and authenticity – one of which completely ruins the film’s, until then, intriguing subplot. 

However, where The Aftermath’s script lost me was in the final twist in which our main character makes a series of decisions which do make sense in her own terms and lead to a disappointing, saccharine, but unsatisfying ending sequence. It all feels done in the name of convenience and sending general audiences home happy and is also completely at odds with the film’s, up until that point, utter refusal to abandon its beloved drama formula.

It’s difficult for me to recommend seeing or avoiding The Aftermath as I’m not myself the biggest fan of true drama. I can imagine that, for those who are, there will be enough of what they like in it to keep them occupied and interested. I suspect they’ll particularly like the use of the war as a backdrop against which a series of personal relationships can be explored rather than featuring as a major character in its own right. However, non or passive fans might find it a bit much and lose interest in it after the first hour or so. Decide which category you’re in and you’ll have your answer.

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