It has been five months since the Allies claimed victory in World War II, and Europe has been left devastated. All, even the ‘winners’, have suffered loss in some way or another. Against this backdrop, a British colonel named Lewis (Jason Clarke) and his wife Rachael (Keira Knightley) take up residence in Hamburg as the former is assigned the task of aiding in post-war reconstruction. English-German relations are tense and Rachael takes a disliking to Stefan (Alexander Skarsgard), who owns and still lives with his daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) in the house she is staying in. The tension between Rachael and Stefan soon evolves into mutual respect and then into attraction towards one another.
Aside from its post-World War II setting, the fact that ‘The Aftermath’ is produced by BBC (behind some of the most beloved costume dramas even put on the small screen), and stars the frequently corset-wearing Keira Knightley, means that it ticks all the boxes when it comes to the requirements of a period drama. Of course these are only minimal requirements – the story also has to inspire intrigue, the acting impress the viewers, and production and costume design create a world one can get lost in. Fortunately ‘The Aftermath’ ticks all of these boxes.
Keira Knightley, who has been making something of a comeback of late (She starred in ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ and ‘Colette’ in recent months), leads ‘The Aftermath’ effortlessly. The classic good looks of her and Alexander Skarsgard suit the setting well. The reserved, resolute natures of their characters also complement one another. However, it is Jason Clarke who constantly surprises you and gives the standout performance of the three leads. Having played the bad guy in such films as ‘White House Down’ and ‘Terminator: Genisys’, Clarke’s role here is more empathetic, and has more depth than you’re led to believe. You feel for his near-impossible task of keeping peace in a country than is holding together by a thread. Both he and Knightley’s characters break down at one point, inspiring two emotional, stunning scenes. Other notable performances come from Martin Compston as the dastardly Burnham, and Irish actor Fionn O’Shea, who impresses as Clarke’s character’s right hand man.
The storyline that follows Heidi – another impressive performance in Flora Thiemann – looks at the relationship she forms with a young Nazi. As with other plot points and themes implied in the film, there is a sense of underdevelopment here, and the credibility of what is happening can be a bit iffy. If you can forgive the movie its flaws and accept it as a piece of entertainment that doesn’t deliver food for thought or content other than what is it says on the tin, you’ll enjoy it. Moreover, aside from the aforementioned excellent acting, the classical Hollywood feel of ‘The Aftermath’ is charming. It thus provides a refreshing follow-up to the recent Oscar season.