I find the period immediately following World War Two in Europe to be one of the most fascinating periods of the 20th century. It has inspired such great films as Fred Zinnemann’s The Search, Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair, and Carol Reed’s The Third Man, to name just a few.
Now comes The Aftermath, a romantic drama set not in Berlin or Vienna but bombed-out Hamburg, where a British Army Colonel (Jason Clarke) is sent with his beautiful wife (Keira Knightley) to keep a lid on a volatile situation. Their marriage is already fragile after the loss of a son, and this change of scenery only heightens tensions between them, especially when he commandeers the stately mansion owned by a genteel German architect (Alexander Skarsgård), who stays on as a tenant along with his adolescent daughter.
Based on the reception that greeted Rhidian Brook’s best-selling novel I must conclude that something was lost in the journey from the printed page to the screen. The presence of three writers in the credits (including the author himself) is certainly not a good sign.
We still get an indication of the resentment that Allied bombings have brought to the people of Hamburg, who have lost so many family members (not to mention their homes). But this movie is much more concerned with a love triangle between Knightley and Skarsgård that heats up incredibly fast and goes on to include a playful snowball fight between Knightley and Skarsgård in the German countryside.
British director James Kent and his colleagues have mounted an unusually handsome production with beautiful people in the foreground. But The Aftermath sacrifices substance for soap opera, and the results are mediocre at best.