The Aftermath (Keira Knightly, Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Clarke) – Set six months after the end of World War II in Hamburg, The Aftermath follows a British colonel, Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke), who is leading the post-War occupation. His wife, Rachael (Keira Knightly), is arriving by train to join him after not having seen him for a long time. As the commanding officer of the occupying forces, Morgan expropriates the stately home of a local architect to live in. The architect, Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard), is very polite and non-political but is now working in a non-professional job while caring for his rebellious, teenage daughter, Freda.
As the movie meanders along … very slowly … we learn that Rachael and Lewis’ son died in an air raid in England. Likewise, Stephen’s wife, died in an Allied bombing. All of these characters are scarred. Rachael is bitter about her husband’s lack of attention on her and their grief. Stephen is trying to cope with his own grief, his daughter’s frequent disappearance, and the loss of his house to the Allies. Lewis is job-obsessed even though he has empathy for the people who have been displaced and whose city has been reduced to ruins.
When Colonel Morgan allows Stephen and Freda to remain on the top floor of the house, an incendiary dynamic is created. Rachael wants no part of these Germans in her new home. Stephen is livid when friends of the Morgans disrespect his ex-wife’s Steinway piano by pounding on the keys and singing raucous songs. Freda is hanging with Hitler youth, most specifically an older teen who is living in the shadows, helping to lead protests, and trying to undermine the occupying forces.
As the story unfolds, Rachael and Stephen grow close. Freda and Rachael bond since both play the piano. As Lewis deals with the protests from the German people, he recedes further from his wife. And then he realizes something is going on between his wife and his boarder.
Director James Kent, most of whose credits are TV related, builds an interesting but brooding story about a time period that, frankly, no one cares about: the aftermath of the War in Germany. But the movie (and the book by Rhidian Brook on which it is based) is not only about the aftermath of the war. It is about the aftermath of the death of the Morgans’ son and Lubert’s wife. In the end, we wonder about the aftermath of the affair, too.
This art-house film has exceptional acting. Keira Knightly has progressed from the gorgeous angel in Love Actually to one of the world’s best period actresses in Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina and The Imitation Game. Jason Clarke is one of the best actors no one knows, having star turns in Oscar-nominated films like Zero Dark Thirty and Mudbound as well as playing Ted Kennedy in the unseen film, Chappaquiddick. Alexander Skarsgard comes by his acting chops naturally as the son of the always phenomenal Stellan Skarsgard. Best known perhaps for his role in Big Little Lies or perhaps The Legend of Tarzan, TV’s True Blood or Straw Dogs, the younger Skarsgard is likeable with a hint of danger.
The Aftermath is not a feel-good film. It is a character study about death, despair, and hope in the wake of the worst conflict in world history.