Sometimes, a period drama reminds us that love and passion are eternal, that human emotion is recognizable across the span of time, and that there is much we can learn from looking back on the past. And sometimes, a period drama reminds us that Keira Knightley looks very nice in 1940s fashions, and pretty much leaves it at that.
“The Aftermath,” so soapy you could blow bubbles with it, is your basic love triangle. Knightley plays Rachel, who travels to Hamburg in 1946 to join her husband, Lewis (Jason Clarke), a British military officer whose work now involves helping to put the shattered city back together. Rachel and Lewis, we learn, are also — metaphor alert! — trying to put their shattered marriage back together, after a previous tragedy. They are staying in the elegant home of Stephan (Alexander Skarsgard), a German widower whose house has been requisitioned by the military, and who has a habit of wandering soulfully around said house wearing blue sweaters that match his eyes. Oh, and there’s some stuff going on about the aftermath of an unspeakable war, but this movie isn’t particularly interested in that.
You can pretty much put together what happens next, amongst the creamy pastels of the exquisitely set-decorated rooms. Rachel, who is brittle and cranky and possessed of endless hours in which to stare out the window at the snow (really, how does this woman get through the day? Didn’t she bring any novels?), finds herself passionately attracted to Stephan, for reasons presumably having to do with those sweaters. Lewis is utterly clueless, until he isn’t; a transition that happened so quickly I wondered if I’d blacked out for a while. And Rachel must make A Fateful Choice, about which I found myself not caring much.
Other than a truly excellent supporting performance by a sweeping, butterscotch-colored satin gown (perhaps it and the green gown from “Atonement” should run off together, preferably in the direction of my house), “The Aftermath” is a lot of pretty mush. Or, rather, it’s like suds; its lovely bubbles pop, leaving nothing behind.
★★ “The Aftermath,” with Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Clarke. Directed by James Kent, from a screenplay by Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse and Rhidian Brook, based on the novel by Brook. 109 minutes. Rated R for sexual content/nudity, and violence including some disturbing images. Opens March 29 at the Meridian, Oak Tree.