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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

The Aftermath

Best film of 2019 so far

James Kent’s The Aftermath is a spellbinding romance that you will want to revisit repeatedly like a tourist to a familiar city. In 1946 after the British win World War II, Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) travels to Hamburg Germany where her Colonel husband Lewis (Jason Clarke) is stationed in order to start rebuilding the shattered city. Unlike the soldiers he works with, Lewis tries to treat the local Germans with respect.

When he and Rachael are sent to live in the luxurious mansion that has been requisitioned from Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard) and his teenage daughter Frida, (Flora Thiemann) he decides to let them remain in the house on the top floor much to Rachael’s disapproval.

Rachael and Lewis’s eleven-year-old son Michael (Frederick Preston) was killed in one of the many bombing raids a few years before and Stefan’s wife was killed in one of Hamburg’s many bombings. Rachael, Lewis, Stefan, and Frida are all living in emotional ruin as they are all fully submerged in their own suffering.

Lewis is emotionally and physically unable to connect with Rachael the way she needs him to. His work sends him away again leaving her alone with Stefan. She initially treats him as though he’s a mouse that’s scurried into her home but she slowly softens her stance to him upon discovering his tragedy. They soon begin a sexual relationship which started out of lust but eventually succumbs to a romantic friendship. They make each other laugh, feel comfortable and safe. Upon the increasing riots by the Germans, the mounting discrimination and Lewis’s return, Rachael and Stefan’s affair becomes dangerous, therefore creating an atmosphere of fear and guilt on her end.

Knightley is the queen of period pieces and The Aftermath is yet another unarguable reminder of that statement. The Aftermath is definitely one of her most complex performances due to the massive variety of emotions she experiences. Anger, surprise, grief, loneliness, and love.

Rachael is someone who’s had to adapt very quickly regardless of how she feels about it. Since her son died during the war and Lewis was in the war, they haven't seen each other in quite some time. She traveled to Hamburg with some sense of worry about their reunion but mostly with anticipation. She’s been grieving all by herself and what she wants is to grieve with her husband. Yet, Lewis won’t even speak his son’s name as his death has hardened him to the edge of no return.

Rachael had a different idea of what their reunion was going to be like and she has to adapt to the fact that nothing is what she thought it would be. She didn't expect Lewis to be so distant from her and she definitely didn't expect to have Germans living in her house. The mansion has a beautiful grand piano and Rachael can’t stop staring at it but she won’t play it because that was something she and her son loved to do together.

Every person is their own puzzle. There is a scene in which Rachael finally plays the piano again with Frida and breaks down sobbing. This is the moment that finally puts all of her pieces together. The gravity of her loss chewed her up with sharp teeth and spit her out into a world that runs on cruelty. She is a soft fabric that’s been ripped to shreds by reality’s claws.

Knightley is too talented an actress to portray Rachael with anything less than all of herself. All of her circumstances, feelings and words are Knightley as she portrays Rachael with everything that’s real. She is a lion and Stefan is the thorn in her paw. Their romance is what removes him from her original hatred (her open aching wound) and in her eyes, Stefan grows from a thorn to a flower.

Lubert’s heart is just as shattered as Rachael's but in a different sense. His life has changed so much so quickly that he’s had to emotionally navigate his and Frida’s future by surrendering and sentencing himself and she to every change brought their way. Frida is disgusted with how accepting her father is by Morgan's arrival and she is infuriated by his showing gratitude for being allowed to stay in the house that was once theirs.

Stefan knows that to Frida, the Morgan’s are intruders and he’s too realistic a man to assume he can reason with her anger. All he can do is be as patient with her as he can. Frida will often stray from their attic quarters and nothing he says to her about it makes a difference. He has completely accepted that everything’s destroyed forever and nothing will ever be the same.

His silent grief soon rises like yeast towards anger. Rachael relates very much to the anger and she starts to understand him a little. Her softening towards him is certainly part of what leads towards their affair but it’s mostly their mutual understanding. Despite their differences, they need each other and Skarsgard’s portrayal of vulnerability and his charming nature clears the fog from Knightley’s eyes, making her see clearer than ever before.

Lewis is definitely the easiest character to judge and it took a while before I was able to see the pain he’s going through. There’s not a question in my mind that it’s Jason Clarke’s history of portraying unloving husbands is what landed him this role. Fortunately for him, he gives Lewis enough complexity to make audiences see something more. His approach to his loss is not working for him or Rachael but he's so used to how he’s handled things he can’t stop, leaving Rachael to mentally fend for herself. His kindness towards Stefan gives him a soft side audience will deeply appreciate.

Frida appreciates nothing. She is so blood boiling angry and it’s all justified because of how she’s suffered and also how young she is. I’m guessing she’s at least 14. She’s at that age where she’s grown from a girl into a woman and her mother is not there to guide her or comfort her in any way. It’s crystal clear Frida absolutely LOVED her mother and her grief is so tragic because of how she handles it. She copes by lashing out towards the Morgans by walking past them with a look of hatred and at one point, hissing at them...

She has no respect for her father as she assumes that by accepting that their lives are now so different, he’s not grieving. “This is not our house anymore,” Stefan tells her early on. She coldly responds, “You’re a coward”. Frida truly is this damaged kid who finds no comfort from anyone so she, in turn, gives no one comfort. Flora Thiemann is such a professional at such a young age. I’m referring to her talent. She dug so deep into Frida’s skin, she was eventually able to crawl in and stay there for the filming of The Aftermath.

Bojana Nikitvic’s costumes have a very strong chance of being nominated for an Oscar. Knightley is a legend for costume designers. So many of them want to work with her because of her contribution to periodic cinema. All of the costumes including hers fit perfectly into The Aftermath. From the dresses, the fur coats and the suits, every stitch of clothing will be furiously devoured by the eyes of audiences everywhere.

Overall, The Aftermath is a marvelous extravagance of a cinematic experience. It’s devastating, gripping and tragic but also romantic, hopeful and beautiful. To me, we audience members are like pieces of sand on the shore. The Aftermath is the beautiful blue wave that crashes so effectively into it. It’s the best film in 2019 so far. If that doesn't tell you to see it instantly, nothing will.

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