Every so often I challenge myself to watch a film that I would normally avoid. The main avoidance factor for The Aftermath would be Keira Knightley.
I’ve never been able to put my finger on the reason that I dislike her acting so much; possibly because I’ve never reviewed any of her performances. Unfortunately for her, The Aftermath was not a good vehicle to sway my prejudice. All the same, she was singularly awful.
I appreciate I’m going to have to justify this scathing remark, so I’ll start with the film, before I demolish Ms Knightley.
Re-building post-war Germany was a colossal and delicate operation. Based on a true story, we find a large stately home being requisitioned by the British Army, sent in to clear up the devastation and assist with de-nazification.
Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) is joined by his wife Rachel (Knightley) after a period of separation. They move into the house of a wealthy architect, Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård.)
Morgan makes a generous offer to Lubert and his troubled teenage daughter to remain in the house. Naturally, there is tension, but they learn to get along and a life-long friendship ensures. Well, that’s how it was in the true story.
Sadly, the film veers way off the truth and presents a bundle of 1940s period drama clichés. Colonel Morgan’s allegiance to re-building Germany rather than his own fractured marriage results in Rachel’s previously antagonistic attitude towards Lubert turn on a sixpence.
Meanwhile, the daughter’s fraternising with the still-extant Hitler Youth leads to a botched assassination attempt, while Lubert’s hinted-at connections with the Nazi Party are casually glossed over by a chocolate-box ending.
I’m trying not to give too much away here but the script is so obvious and transparent, there is little left to the imagination. Any good writer’s maxim “show, don’t tell” was clearly ignored in the writing process.
Where the picture shows its best card is in the cinematography. From the decimated cityscapes, to the crisp, snow-laden countryside; the antique vehicles, to the jarring juxtaposition of Bauhaus furniture among the old-school manor house oak and lacquer: this is pleasing viewing.
Some of the acting isn’t too bad either, given such a vapid storyline. The daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) in particular presents the most three-dimensional reading of a youth ‘in transition’ – a better metaphor than the one employed by the film: “I don’t blame you for wanting to start again.”
But even with the crutch of her fellow actors, and the occasional intrusion of flash-back to portray the emotions that she is incapable of showing, Knightley simply lacks the acting repertoire to carry off any nuance of emotion.
She seems to have two basic facial expressions: rictal or sullen. Her voice ranges from mildly hysterical to b**chily posh. Even the (totally unnecessary) sex-scene was played with less emotional gravitas than her arrival on a cold train-station platform. If you don’t believe me, just watch the trailer.
In the hands of a good actor, this film might have been dragged into a conversation-piece at best. Sadly, it is a missed opportunity to examine the serious subject of renewal and reconciliation. While I’m sure there are many fans of Keira Knightley, who like a good romantic period romp, I am not one.
The Filmhouse’s programme is available here.