Hollywood tends to prefer its characters rather clear-cut – goodies are goodies and baddies are baddies. So the premise of ‘The Aftermath’ – a well-cast post-war drama – is tantalising in its potential to explore the grey boundaries of human morality.
It’s 1946, the war has just ended and a British woman, Rachael (Keira Knightley), travels to Germany to join her husband Lewis (Jason Clarke), a colonel in charge of helping put back together the broken country. ‘They’re still finding bodies’, he says as scenes of rubble piled the height of double-decker buses pass outside the car window.
The couple are housed in an unscathed country pile, where architect Stefan (Alexander Skarsgård) and his embittered teenage daughter are preparing to move to an internment camp. Lewis suggests the family move to the top floor instead. This appals Rachael, who can’t fathom living under the same roof as their former enemies.
Instead of becoming a proper interrogation of guilt, collaboration and the toxic legacy of Nazism, this scenario spins into a tale of temptation, lust and suppressed grief. It’s soapy but not unenjoyable. The story zips by, even if it all feels a bit superficial.
The cast has chemistry too. Skarsgård is wounded and willowy with rather dashing taste in mid-century furniture, while Clarke provides the film’s moral compass as a man who might have been a thuggish brute, but who is decent and caring throughout. And we should give a shout out to the costume and set design too, which arguably outshines everything else.