What’s the difference between a really old Mills and Boon novel and the new post-World War 2 flick The Aftermath?
Answer: the novel won’t take as long to read, right through to the “and then he took her” aah, eer…aah … climax.
That’s not to say that The Aftermath is not bad cinema. Or particularly good, seeing the computer-generated imagery is the best thing going for it. But it is so, so, so Mills and Boonish.
While it’s true that no bodice was harmed or, indeed, ripped in this melodramatic mangled a trois, it comes close as Rachael Morgan (Keira “I look rather prit-tee” Knightley), aware there’s a big gap in her sexual and emotional life, looks to have that gap filled with a fair bit of krauting from German architect Stefan Lubert (Alexander “my other three siblings weren’t available for this one) Skarsgard with the funny little circle over the second “a”.
And why wouldn’t she? She’s in devastated post-war Hamburg alongside her standoffish husband Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke who hails from Winton in Queensland, by the way) as part of the Allied occupation forces. Morgan shows all the heat and compassion of a flat torch battery – that’s right, he’s English.
The English couple have taken over Lubert’s magnificent home under war’s basic “winners are grinners” rule, so given such a hubbie, why wouldn’t our Rach fall for Herr Lubert, especially when he seduces her with a gramaphone recording of some lovely operatic duet. Wagner, I suppose? The cunning kraut!
Can you feel the tension and the heat of passion and betrayal building, folks? I couldn’t but that might be because the air-conditioning in the brand-new cinema I was in (Palace, Byron Bay) was very cold and about an hour in I really wanted to go wee wees. It’s a lovely new cinema complex but I’d recommend taking a cardie and an empty drink bottle if you are of a certain age.
Unaware of my plight, director James Kent and his writers take some time to get to why Rachael and Stephen should hate each other’s guts instead of slapping them together, but they’re quicker off the mark to let us know that she’ll catch nothing nazi from the former architect. He might have designed buildings for the Third Reich but never a gas chamber. He’s a good ‘hun.
The only decent stick who thinks that after war bygones should be bygones is the poor cuckolded colonel, but isn’t that the way of things? The nice man always cops it in the plums.
Skargard drifts through his role, perhaps wondering whether his dad would do better at it, but does a fair impression of Germany’s answer to Christopher Plummer’s Austrian Captain Von Trapp, sans songs.
My concern with Knightley as always is that perhaps she’s far too prit-tee to play the role of temptress. You know that dumb look Harrison Ford used to give when he thought he had to act properly? Well, Knightley does this thing – not sure it’s a teeth, mouth or combo thing – that says: “Do you think I’m prit-tee?” and “I can’t believe you want to give me one!” and it can come at any time in her performance, which can be a little off-putting when she’s striving for a certain gravitas.
Filling out other major roles and barely worthy sub plots are Martin Compston (Line of Duty) having a ball as a rather unpleasant chap called Burnham because Tom Hollander wasn’t available and luscious-lipped Anna Katharina Schimrigk providing some eye candy as Stephen’s troubled daughter Heike.
But let’s cut to the six-legged chase. Whom will our Rach choose in the end? The charming German who presses all the right buttons? Or the hubbie who’s all buttoned up?
And more, importantly, is it worth today’s cost of a cinema ticket to find out?