One only needs to look at the poster art for James Kent‘s postwar-set romance The Aftermath to gage the triangle of transgression that will unfold over the course of the film’s 108 minute running time. In fact, the surface level of the Joe Shrapnel/Anna Waterhouse-penned script practically begs you to accept the predictable turn of events, all so that when it starts to unfold you’re somewhat surprised that it doesn’t end up in the fashion you’d expect.
Despite the film’s foreseeable nature – even if you closed your eyes you’d see the predicament Jason Clarke‘s war colonel, Keira Knightley‘s neglected wife, and Alexander Skarsgard‘s houseguest find themselves in – there’s a welcome sense of tension splashed amongst The Aftermath‘s backdrop that adds a weight the expected romance doesn’t muster.
Set in the aftermath (natch!) of war-ravaged Germany in 1946, the film quickly sets up the unconventional living situation between Colonel Lewis Morgan (a sympathetic Clarke), his wife Rachael (Knightley), and Herr Lubert (Skarsgard, as stoically handsome as you’d expect), a German architect who managed to avoid Nazi affairs. On the brink of being sent off to Nazi camps due to his home being commandeered for the Morgan’s to reside in, a compassionate (and naive) Lewis asks Lubert and his teenage daughter to stay on as house guests, something Rachael initially rebuffs.
With Lewis and Rachael’s marriage evidently strained – his constant leaving to assist whatever crisis demands his attention, and her still reeling from the death of their son – and Lubert seemingly always making his presence known in their gorgeously vast house, it’s practically expected that Rachael would fill her loneliness by acquainting herself with both Lubert and his daughter.
Torrid affair in 3, 2, 1…
The romance that eventually erupts between Rachael and Lubert comes after Kent builds considerable tension between the two; a near-tryst on a dining room table is unbearable in its tautness. And as much as the film could easily glamorise the idea of an affair – something that female-led features involving extra-marital rendezvous’ tend to do – we understand Rachael’s state of mind in giving in to her desires. Similarly, Lewis isn’t painted in an unflattering manner either. There is evident love still blossoming within their marriage, they just haven’t tended to it enough, and The Aftermath proves surprisingly sound in presenting an affair where there’s no guilty party.
As far as watching pretty people engage in moderately sexual activities can take you on an entertainment level, The Aftermath offsets its A-story with a side-arc that ironically commands more attention. Lubert’s daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann), an angry adolescent if ever there was one, falls in with a pro-Hitler crowd who are planning a sabotage attack on the British services, namely Colonel Morgan, and it’s the dramatic energy evoked from this separate storyline that keeps an undercurrent of excitement running throughout the film’s veins.
Whilst there’s ultimately no new ground broken here, The Aftermath at least accepts its nature and performs more than adequately as to appear that it’s far more investing than it deserves to be. Clarke, Skarsgard, and Knightley all deliver fine performances (Knightley is especially good), it’s just a shame it couldn’t be in a film that completely commits to breaking tradition instead of merely flirting with it.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Aftermath is screening in Australian theatres now