This undefined, highly recognisable spark translates itself through actors’ on-screen chemistry, the golden daydream of every movie executive, but it requires something else, a more crucial ingredient in film art – dedication to a story ignited between two people. The bit of furious heart lacking in this classy, divinely lit take on falling in love with the enemy.
It’s 1946, the place is post-war Hamburg, West Germany, and in fact, there is dedication in The Aftermath, but not between two exceptionally beautiful lovers at its center. Rachel (a stoic Keira Knightley), the army wife, arrives at the confiscated city mansion in devastation at the loss of her son in a Nazi air raid, and her aim is to preserve his memory. High profile architect Stefan, the destitute host (a haunted Alexander Skarsgård) is in mourning too, he lost his wife in an Allied air raid, and seems fully dedicated to his teenage daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann), his focal point. Lewis (truly moving performance by Jason Clarke), the British Army colonel, is dedicated to his country, his mission, with a military mind facilitating transference for the ungrieved death of his son. He is a soft soul at his core, the heart of this tale, and Clarke carries it as far as he is given scope, but it does not bode well for a story of a tumultuous affair if the only performance with conviction, in a love triangle, is given by the betrayed husband.
This, in a way, would have been hell of a narrative twist, had the material of the catalyst relationship between Rachel and Stefan worked as it should have – emotional dynamite, cracking open the true pain underneath the steel hood. But it did not. We never can figure out what draws them together, except grief. And that’s not enough. So the entire construction falls apart as if dismantled by a sensible family therapist. There’s also the constant pressure for understatement here, a very English story. But even when there is an overt suppression of drama, covert intensity must be present, if we are to believe there was ever love in the equation.
Otherwise, what’s the point?