Thursday, 21 March 2019

Wintry tale explores calm after the storm

Wintry tale explores calm after the storm

FROM Dunkirk to Darkest Hour, Second World War dramas remain a mainstay of British cinema. Yet the immediate fallout after the war, with an Allied victory in 1945, is an area less examined on film.

Adapted from the best-selling novel by Rhidian Brook, James Kent’s film The Aftermath redresses that balance with a heartbreaking story of loss and love.

Keira Knightley, fresh from her superb turn in Colette, plays Rachael Morgan, who arrives in Hamburg just after the war.

Meeting her from the train is her husband, Lewis (Jason Clarke), a colonel in the British army who has been posted to the war-ravaged city to help oversee its reconstruction.

Understandably, Rachael feels great antipathy towards the Germans (for reasons that become even clearer). It’s exacerbated when she discovers she and her husband have been assigned a large and beautifully designed house, formerly owned by German architect and widower Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) and his troubled young daughter, Freda (Flora Thiemann).

Although Stefan and Freda confine themselves to an attic room until they can move out to a camp, things change when Lewis invites them to stay on in the house, much to Rachael’s chagrin.

Tensions begin to bubble, although it soon becomes clear that Rachael’s anger — with both Lewis and Stefan — is really masking the tremendous pain of her own losses suffered during the war.

Halfway through, an intriguing twist in the plot — no spoilers here — sends the story spinning in a surprising but electric direction. By the time it has played out, the film has acquired an almost tragic dimension as it spotlights a number of characters, all of whom have been devastated by the impact of war.

As much as it treads in romantic-drama territory, The Aftermath is really a look at grief and the almost involuntary way in which a person reacts in the most challenging circumstances.

Kent, whose previous films include 2014’s well-received Testament of Youth, fully gets to grips with the subtext of his story here, in what unfolds as an increasingly sad, poetic tale.

With Martin Phipps’s exquisite score lending real resonance, The Aftermath comes into its own in the final act, with revelations and reconciliations.

Somehow, Kent forges a happy ending of sorts against the wintry backdrop, one that will heal some wounds — although, as the film makes clear, there are no real winners in life after war.

The Aftermath is showing at Henley’s Regal Picturehouse cinema from today (Friday).

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