Hamburg is in ruins five months after Germany surrenders in 1946. opens with scenes of German residents starving and displaced in bombed-out neighborhoods. Now, they must face Brits and Americans bossing them around their native land, requisitioning their most luxurious homes for their own use during the occupation. Some Germans are so resentful they’re still willing to die defiantly in the name of Hitler.
We don’t often see a film centered on the immediate aftermath of World War II from a German perspective. Yet The Aftermath is not only for history buffs and those who enjoy historical romance. Here we are introduced to the overt tensions between the German people struggling to make a new life under the watchful eye of the same people who they tried to destroy and who destroyed their city. The war’s immediate aftermath exacerbates unhealed wounds on both sides: for the victorious and for the defeated.
Enter British officer Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke), accompanied by his wife, Rachel (Keira Knightley), who is livid that her husband has offered to share the home they have requisitioned with its rightful owner Herr Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard) and his troubled teenage daughter, Freda. Otherwise, the Luberts would face grim conditions in a refugee camp.
Tensions between the two families inevitably build to a crisis in the midst of the rubble by the Allied forces. And in addition, Colonel Morgan, fundamentally a decent officer who wishes to treat the Germans with dignity, is overwhelmed with the obligation to rebuild the city, and is morally distraught by what he witnesses. This has left Morgan emotionally numb.
All of the characters in The Aftermath are wounded in some way and it is fascinating to watch them clash and interact, repulse and attract. All are deeply flawed but worthy of sympathy.
This sleeper of a war drama, The Aftermath, is primarily a tale of lives skittering across the surface, unblessed, and at risk of drowning.
Note: Available as a Netflix DVD now and on HBO July 1, 2020. For viewers who feel that subtitles are a bit cumbersome: The subtitles for the brief dialogue in German are in a much smaller font than for the English. This is especially difficult in reading white letters against a light background.