THE AFTERMATH is the kind of classy drama -- here a war yarn with daubs of action and plenty of romantic sizzle -- that Fox Searchlight, in association with BBC Films, knows how to deliver and does here.
Set in a near-destroyed, suffering 1946 Hamburg, Germany (almost 50,000 people died in the 1943 Allied bombing), the film tells the novel-adapted story of Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley), having suffered the war years in London with a young son eventually killed in the German attacks, who travels to Hamburg to repair her strained marriage. She has been estranged from decent but workaholic husband Lewis (Jason Clarke), a British Army colonel tasked to help rebuild the shattered metropolis. He has requisitioned for them a gorgeous, spacious villa on the outskirts of Hamburg. While pleased with such unexpected luxury, Rachael still grieves her lost son and the froideur of a marriage she hopes to warm up. And understandable paranoia and negative feelings waft about in the German air. Compounding Rachael's angst is Lewis’ decision to let the villa’s owner Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård), a wealthy (pre-war, that is), cultured architect denied work, and his troubled 11 year old daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann), remain in the villa’s upper floor. No surprise that sparks fly and passion flares as the attraction between Rachael and Lubert — both needy stay-at-homes — grows. Much follows inside and beyond the mansion where literal sparks flare as a result of residual Nazi allegiances.
Main and supporting cast all fine, including Aussie Clarke as an upright Brit here, again displaying his impressive range (e.g. Zero Dark Thirty, First Man, Chappaquiddick, Mudbound, even Serenity’s vulgar macho abuser, etc.).
A number of subplots, twists and colorful characters enrich what could have been a cramped love triangle melodrama.
Handsome production design throughout, whether lovely villa interiors or dusty, grim, pulverized Hamburg exteriors.
Tightly grips viewers to a bitter (maybe sweet) denouement with a final frames resolution that, upon reflection, strikes as entirely appropriate.
Some quibblers might find Skarsgård’s character, although a good German, not quite German enough while other viewers may grouse that a few plot coincidences are too pat or that, in spite of a few lousy Nazis lurking about, the film has an overly-sympathetic take on the Germans, so early post-war (today, we cherish our German friends!).