[Screen It]


(2019) (Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke) (R)

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Drama: A British wife, still grieving over her dead son from a Nazi bombing during WWII, joins her military husband in Hamburg where she hates all Germans but then starts to have a change of heart toward the handsome widower whose house they're occupying.
It's five months after the end of WWII and the German city of Hamburg lies in ruins. Various Allied forces are there to assist in rebuilding the city, keeping the peace and documenting the citizens. Unlike his colleague Maj. Keith Burnham (MARTIN COMPSTON), Colonel Lewis Morgan (JASON CLARKE) feels bad for them and wants to help as much as possible. His wife, Rachael (KEIRA KNIGHTLEY), however, has a vastly different opinion about such matters, what with their then 11-year-old son having died during a Nazi bombing in London a few years earlier.

Accordingly, she despises all Germans, including former architect and widower Stephen Lubert (ALEXANDER SKARSGARD) and his teenage daughter Freda (FLORA THIEMANN) whose large manor they're now occupying. She's especially upset when Lewis allows them to stay in the house, albeit on the upper floors. With Lewis working most of the time, she's not comfortable with this situation, but enjoys spending time with Keith's wife, Susan (KATE PHILLIPS). While Stephen tries to be as accommodating as possible, Freda doesn't like the intruders and ends up spending more time with young Nazi sympathizer Albert (JANNIK SCHUMANN).

But realizing they have more in common than their differences -- mainly having lost loved ones in the war -- Rachael begins to soften her attitude. All of which leads to an unexpected development between her and Stephen and leaves them wondering about their future in the war-torn country.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Some readers of film criticism level the charge that reviewers shouldn't critique a movie if 1) they haven't read the novel on which it's based or 2) they haven't gone through something similar to what the protagonist does in the film.

To which I say balderdash (at least in writing as, to be fully transparent, I don't think I've actually uttered that word aloud at any point in my life). For starters, and as I've said before, movies and books are two completely different beasts that should stand on their own merits and just because one is based on the other doesn't mean it must be one-hundred-percent beholden to it. And regarding the other criticism -- and perhaps revealing too much personal information -- I've never been in a galaxy far, far away; haven't tried to kill a great white shark; and never fought Nazis for an archaeological find.

Yet, somehow, I could relate to what transpired in those and most other films because of the common and connective human experience. Accordingly, while I've never lost a loved one in war, lived in a bombed out city following such a military conflict, or been a wife two decades before I was born, I think I'm qualified enough -- from having lots of critical practice and simply being human -- to give my two cents and change about the post-wartime romantic drama "The Aftermath."

As the title suggests, the plot -- based on the novel of the same name by Rhidian Brook which itself was loosely based on real-life events regarding the writer's grandfather -- centers around the aftermath of WWII. And specifically that of Allied forces trying to rebuild the heavily damaged city of Hamburg, Germany. But the title also refers to the emotional aftermath of losing family members during such wartime.

The key players are Rachael (Keira Knightley), a British woman who's traveled from London to Hamburg in 1945 to be with her husband, Lewis (Jason Clarke), as he and others try to get that city and its citizens back on their feet again. They're to live in a large manor outside the city that's been requisitioned as their living quarters, thus meaning its handsome owner, Stephen (Alexander Skarsgard), and his teenage daughter, Freda (Flora Thiemann), must move out.

But unlike others, Lewis no longer hates the Germans and instead extends a helping hand however he can, including offering to allow the former architect and his girl to stay there, albeit up in the attic. That doesn't sit well with Rachael who has no love lost for whom she mostly likely refers to as "the krauts" (but is too dignified to say that aloud) what with blaming them for her then 11-year-old son's death in a Nazi bombing raid and the resultant emotional estrangement between her and Lewis.

Stephen, ever the polite and accommodating gentleman understands her pain, what with having lost his wife during the firebombing of their city. And thus what starts out as a prickly arrangement soon turns to friendship and before you can "Holy soap opera, Batman!" they're rolling around in the sheets.

There's plenty of dramatic potential present, but despite that, otherwise fine performances from the leads and a handsome production design, the overall offering feels dramatically inert for the most part. Perhaps sensing that -- and I have no idea if the following occurs in the book -- screenwriters Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse and director James Kent include a subplot of the German teen falling in with a slightly older Nazi (Jannik Schumann) who isn't happy with the occupation. There's little doubt he's going to participate in some sort of violence, with the only question being whether that will accidentally resolve Rachael's romantic and future life predicament. Alas, even that isn't that gripping.

Overall, and notwithstanding the steamy sex scenes, this feels like an old wartime romantic drama you might accidentally stumble across while channel surfing, watch for a bit, and then move on, promptly forgetting everything you've just seen. Methinks the same will likely happen to this offering meaning there won't be much notable aftermath after seeing it. The film rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 18, 2019 / Posted March 22, 2019

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