Pardon the pun but this has became a piece of writing akin to that of “War & Peace” (eye rolls) as its taken me down various topical avenues & forever to write. Finally, I am blogging about the film ‘The Aftermath’ that I saw at the cinema last year. Its loosely based on the novel of the same name written by Rhidian Brook based upon his grandfather’s real experiences. Rhidian was also one of the screenwriters involved with working on the script for this period drama.
Its set in Hamburg, Germany in 1946 during the aftermath of World War II bombings by the British & USA airforces (and other allies). This was also known as Operation Gomorroh – the firestorm bombings over Hamburg. As the story begins we are introduced to the English colonel Lewis Morgan (played by Jason Clarke) who is charged with the clearing up of the destroyed German city of Hamburg. Lewis is a focused & conscientious man. Well he’d have to be in his position. His wife Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) travels from Britain to be reunited with him. They take up residence in the requistioned mansion of a german widower & architect herr Stephen Lubert (Alex Skarsgaard) and his daughter Freda Lubert (Flora Thiemann). Lewis prefers to live in the Lubert’s property with them instead of sending them to a refugee camp which was common practice at the time. The Luberts adapt by living in their smaller makeshift quarters in the loft, with the Morgans having free reign over the rest of the house. Bearing in mind this is a difficult situation as a now shared residence of two very recent enemies of war, the British and the Germans.
In actual fact the shared residence element was a true part of the story for Rhidian’s grandfather British colonel Walter Brook, he was stationed there with his family including his son Kim – Rhidian’s father. According to Rhidian, Walter said “We’ll share – the house its big enough”. This was gesture in itself depicts one of significant humanitarian shift towards a progressive modern Europe albeit in its infancy & not clear cut! After all the British and their allies whom “brought Germany to its knees” to denazify it were now present to help clear and rebuild it.
Slight ‘gear shift’ now. What makes the film aesthetically interesting is the locations used (filmed in Prague & Hamburg) during winter time. This makes for a colour palette of snowy winter hues ‘sprinkled over the buildings and forests of the rural landscape juxtaposed with the darkness of blackened decimated city.
Now back to the dramatisation ‘the new lady of the house’ Rachael is left spending more time in the mansion whilst Lewis’ is pouring himself any chance he gets into carrying out his professional duties. So what transpires is gradual development from hostility to that of human connection (irrespective of nationality & allegiance) to that of friendship between Rachael and the Luberts. She finds herself drawn to the handsome Stephen who shares her a love of music. He is gentle and very polite in nature. Stephen is a proud, magnanimous and gracious man who’s trying to keep it together as actor Alex Skarsgaard himself described .
Production wise the film this is a handsomely made & rich in colour from the opulent interior of the mansion to the glamorous fashion of the 1940s. The costume designs were on point! With the right lighting and scene sets the clothes were done justice on the big screen. I loved Racheal’s wardrobe, it screamed period drama with its formal tailored wear, coordinating twin sets, knitted jumpers and skimming a-line skirts to the stunning evening gowns. Kiera’s svelte figure perfectly suited the style as she wore gowns so effortlessly (otherwise not so forgiving to us curvier gals with our lumps and bumps). The gold satin/ silk gown was one of my fav’s. The colours of the pieces were gorgeous, the fabrics and the accompanying accessories all divine. Kudos to costume designer Bojana Nikitovic! As a women and lover of clothes & fashion per se, I simply could not not comment on this! Gear Change…
Talking now of Frida, Stephen’s daughter she is a temperamental girl who manages to express her perpetual frustrations and inner turmoil in a ‘silent’ yet compelling manner. It becomes apparent that she has lost her mother in the bombings and is struggling with her grief and struggling to cope with the new occupiers of her home. Watching another woman taking up the matriarchal role, who is also forming a bond with her father Stephen is fuelling her ‘pain’ & resentment further. Stephen is also trying to cope with his loss of his wife and Freda’s lack of or little communication is driving a wedge between them. Before long Frida begins to actively rebel by sneaking out and befriending Bertie (Jack Laskey) who as things unfold is a member of the Werwolf (Nazi) resistance movement. She doesn’t realise she is being used as a pawn for Bertie’s hidden agenda. He manipulates her by tapping into her girlish naivety, teenage angst & grief so that she begins to get swept up in his plans of revenge on the British.
Rachael and Lewis are also both grieving their deceased young son Michael who died in the war from a german bomb. However Lewis has closed himself off and doesn’t discuss it or feel it around Rachael, this has created a distance between them as a couple in the way they manage their grief. They begin to drift further as Lewis conveniently throws himself into his increasingly demanding job to avoid his personal problems. He’s “a man’s man” and shields his sensitivity behind his professional facade who when off duty he is a sensitive and pained man with loving tenderness and intimacy towards Rachael. Before long Rachael begins a passionate affair with Stephen. Like a ‘band aid’ she try’s to fill the gap in missing her deceased son by ‘breaking the ice’ with Frida and spending time with her. So much so that the three almost become like a little family unit to which Lewis is not privy.
Then during off duty socialising within the british army and their wives rumours of an affair surface as one of the wives warns Rachael of this knowledge. This brings me to some of the side characters that deserve a mention such as Burnham a nasty intelligence officer played impeccably by Martin Compston (Line of Duty star). Burnham I felt resembled a ‘yapping dog clipping at the colonel’s heels’. His overt contempt for anything non – british exudes cockiness including revelling in whispering “in Lewis’ ear” with the rumours about Rachael. As Pies Marchant writes in his article in Arkansas Democratic Gazette this is shown “to display the smug arrogance of the victorious military, contrasting against the Colonel’s vastly more progressive ways”. Barker (Fiona O’Shea) also deserves a mention, he is one of the young soldiers that Lewis takes under his wing. Fionn gives a great acting performance, as I found myself really rooting for the lad through the tale.
As everything unravels in the Morgan’s world, the unspoken depth of the couple’s grief over their son’s death is brought out from ‘under the rug’. By this point Rachael is considering a future with Stephen. He has visions of a future that include building a new home – a new start. I won’t say anymore so as not to give away the ending as I’ve said enough about the story already, Eek!
I’ve realised that infidelity seems to be the common topic in many a period drama & yes to be fair this is another film about an illicit love affair but it is also much more. The Aftermath looks at the impact of war on civilisation. It addresses hostility, forgiveness and reconciliation amongst people who have gone through conflict & tragedy. Above all it addresses the sheer power of grief and how this deep consuming emotion affects people differently and the repercussions of their reactions to it, that’s what underpins this story!
Ps. The Brook’s family’s story is fascinating and you can find out more about it by reading the online BBC Wales article “The Aftermath: The Story behind Kiera Knightley’s WW2 Film”.
A recent film seen & recommended is Collette funnily enough also starring Kiera Knightley. I’m so glad I gave that film a chance as it’s based on a fascinating true story about a groundbreaking female writer.