(Release Info London schedule; February 28th, 2019, Olympic Studios, 117 - 123 Church Road, Barnes (West London), 20:30 PM)
"The Aftermath" is set in postwar Germany in 1946. Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) arrives in the ruins of Hamburg during the bitter winter, to be reunited with her husband Lewis (Jason Clarke), a British colonel charged with rebuilding the shattered city. But as they set off for their new home, Rachael is stunned to discover that Lewis has made an unexpected decision; they will be sharing the grand house with it's previous owners Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård), a German widower and his troubled daughter Freda (Flora Thiermann). In this charged atmosphere, enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal. It feels like a fantastic collision of an extraordinary and inspirational backdrop with a very personal and credible story.
After the end of 'The World War II', in the late 1940s, control of Germany is divided among 'The British', 'The Americans', 'The Russians', and 'The French', their combined mission is to help rebuild the war-ravaged nation. We'd never really considered that moment in history before, nobody could have known what the future held, least of all the defeated German people. The port city of 'Hamburg', Germany’s second largest city after Berlin, had suffered a devastating five-day bombing raid by 'The Allied Forces' in 1943 that killed 100,000 people and caused the destruction of 6,200 acres. Millions of German citizens were either homeless or without food, fuel, or other necessities when 'The British' arrived. After the cessation of hostilities, 'The Native Population' is barred from having any involvement in running their own affairs. It's under these circumstances that Rachael Morgan travels from England to the ruins of Hamburg to be reunited with her husband Lewis, a British colonel charged with rebuilding the shattered city after the end of 'The Second World War'. As they set off for their new home, Rachael is stunned to discover that Lewis has made an unexpected decision.
The couple will be sharing their residence with it's previous owners, the architect who designed the grand house, Stephan Lubert, and his troubled teenage daughter, Freda. Although the sprawling estate offers plenty of room for both 'The English Couple' and the displaced Germans, the unconventional arrangement breeds tension and discomfort, with Rachael harboring a simmering resentment toward the guests she views as interlopers. The arrangement makes Rachael deeply uncomfortable. She resents the presence of outsiders she perceives as suspect, and she longs instead for time alone with Lewis to help heal the wounds that have taken a toll on their marriage. But the charged atmosphere soon takes on a different tenor. Lubert discovers that Rachael is locked in a prison of sorrow over the death of her young son in a London air raid, while Rachael learns that Lubert lost his beloved wife in an 'Allied' bombing campaign. Remarkably, the one person to sense the profound isolation Rachael feels is Lubert, a man who now haunts the rafters of his home like a ghost. Unable to practice his chosen profession without clearance from British officials, Lubert is forced to take a factory job as a metal press operator.
He’s a shadow of himself, struggling to hold together a façade of strength in the face of tremendous uncertainty as he waits for the next chapter of his life to begin. As she begins to absorb the weight of what they, too, lost in the conflict, Rachael’s stance toward 'The Germans' begins to soften, slowly, evidenced by small gestures. She invites Freda to practice piano in the main living quarters any time she would like. Slowly, the tension between Rachael and Lubert begins to take on a different dimension, as she begins to see him as a kindred injured spirit and finds herself drawn to him. Lewis, meanwhile, remains oblivious to the blossoming relationship between Rachael and Lubert, too consumed by his duties and too closed off from Rachael to take note of her infidelity. Only too late does he realize what his neglectful attitude might have cost him. Rachael and Stephen’s two wounded souls find themselves in the grips of a reluctant attraction that pulls them ever closer to one another. Finally, enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal, changing the course of their lives forever.
Rachael Morgan is a woman struggling to deal with the death of her young child and baffled and shocked by her husband’s decision to share a house with someone she sees as the enemy. In drama, you normally deal with the bit that leads up to the dramatic moment, in this case the death of their son. But this film asks, what happens after that? How as a couple do you come out of something that's so unimaginably horrific? How do you rebuild a relationship? She's a woman who's forced to hide her wildly turbulent inner life behind a mannered mask of composure. This is a story of a woman who’s been married some 15 years and is therefore quite a mature woman and also a woman who's a mother. Regarding the complexity of Rachael’s emotions, the film remarks on the simmering hatred and loathing that lived just below the surface. She's, for all intents and purposes, prejudiced. She’s lives through the war, through being bombed in London. What she’s never seen is the catastrophe that had happened in Germany.
In her mind, it’s us and them. She despises them. She blames them for the death of her son and the entire war. She comes in with her fixed idea of who these people would be and then suddenly is forced to confront the fact that they're people who are grieving in the same way that she's grieving, who've suffered incredible loss in the same way that she has. The relationship with Lubert begins with a sexual need. But also he’s somebody who understands what she’s going through and will confront it, as opposed to her husband, whose way of dealing with his grief is to simply not talk about it, to shut down and not in any way give her the support that she needs. That pushes her into finding solace somewhere else. You can’t really understand Rachael’s resurrection from the ashes of her grief unless you understand the scale of horror that she’s thrown into. It's an intimate story about a woman who, having suffered a cataclysmic experience, finds a way to rebuild her life and move toward a more hopeful future.
Lewis Morgan is 'The English Army' colonel in charge of 'The British' district of post-war Germany whose idealism masks an inability to grieve for his dead son. Morgan is a soldier who fought on the front line and has moved into administration, he’s risen through the ranks. Over six years, he’s become a soldier, married, and lost his child during the bombing in London. Lewis is sensitive to the plight of Europe and Germany, but not to his wife and what they’ve been through, they’re trying to cope with their own loss. How do they find meaning? How do they put their lives back together? How do they find a way ahead after they’ve lost a child? How does a country? How does a world? He's a strong, rather traumatized man whose civility has been ruptured by the violence he’s experienced and has to somehow accommodate this woman who’s come back into his life who has no knowledge of his war.
He lived through the horrors of battle and has a different, more sympathetic perspective, underlining once more the estrangement that has developed between husband and wife. Like finally, Rachel is open. She’s showing herself to her husband, to everyone. She feels free to express herself. Lewis never quite finds the same sense of liberation or abandon. Although he does eventually come to look differently at his marriage and the upheaval he and Rachael have experienced, his outward appearance is largely unchanged. Even at his most casual, he remains every inch 'The British' officer. He feels so good in the uniform that, whenever we see him at home, he’s still wearing it, but without the jacket, without the tie, sleeves rolled up. Lewis understands that you can’t blame a whole nation, that a whole nation is not responsible. At a certain point, he feels like he’s going to lose his wife if he doesn’t change, if he doesn’t do something, but that comes too late. It’s a beautiful meditation on love and on being human.
The other man in Rachael’s orbit is Stephan Lubert, the dignified German architect who comes between 'The British Couple'. Lubert is a very sophisticated man, very intelligent, and highly educated. But he’s a broken man. He has lost almost everything, his beloved wife, his job, and his house. In a way, he’s lost his daughter Freda because she blames him for the death of her mother. He's struggling to reach her and connect with her. Although Lubert is not a 'Nazi Sympathizer', he’s someone who turned a blind eye to the atrocities happening all around him, focusing instead on the welfare of his own family. He’s morally corrupt in a way. He didn’t know what was going on in the camps, but at the same time, he’s carrying this guilt of not doing anything. He wasn’t part of the resistance. He wasn’t fighting against fascism. He just put his head down and got on with it, which he has to now live with and that's very difficult for him. Adding to the strain is the animosity directed at Lubert by his 16-year-old daughter Freda, who blames her father for her mother’s death and feels nothing but hatred for 'The English Couple' taking over their family’s home, feelings that eventually drive her into the arms of Albert (Jannik Schumann), a young Nazi in hiding.
Freda feels there’s no one she can talk to about what has happened. Barely concealing her hatred toward Lubert, Rachael tries to establish something resembling a normal life, but normalcy proves elusive in a foreign land. Even her friendship with the socially-minded Susan Burnam (Kate Phillips), wife to Lewis colleague Major Keith Burnam (Martin Compston), offers her little in the way of candor. Rachael can never honestly reveal her innermost thoughts without worrying about becoming the subject of gossip or scorn. The most important of any of the film’s locations, however, is 'Villa Lubert', the immaculate residence where the bulk of the story unfolds. The house is much more a character itself. The size of the house is important to demonstrate their wealth, but also for practical purposes, who make sure the décor reflected Lubert’s appreciation for the modern art movement of the 1930s and ’40s. It’s a house that Rachael doesn’t understand. It’s meant to frighten Rachael because she knows nothing about any of the things in it. There were lots of patterns everywhere, and they really added texture to the background. The house really illustrates the characters.
This film is based on the 2013 novel 'The Aftermath' written by Rhidian Brook. Brook used the seed of his own grandfather’s improbable history to inspire this story. Colonel Walter Brook was one of 'The English' officers dispatched to Germany to get the country back on it's feet after years of death and destruction. Governor of a district near Hamburg, Walter Brook, requisitioned a house for his family but chose not to have it's German owners evicted. Thus, two families, who months before had been on opposite sides of the deadly conflict, found themselves sharing a home, an arrangement that lasted for five years. Walter Brook is the inspiration for Colonel Lewis Morgan, the enlightened and altruistic army officer who allows Stephan Lubert, an architect awaiting official permission to work again, to stay on in his mansion on 'The Elbe'.
There was an 'English' occupation of Germany after the war. When you’ve been enemies for so long, do you suddenly see people as people again, and not simply as evil and on the other side. It’s an extraordinary moment, the world’s been absolutely laid flat in a way it never had before. 'The British' in particular felt very strongly that we shouldn’t repeat what happened at the end of 'The First World War', so the idea of punishing Germany was off the agenda. That makes it an astonishingly generous, positive, and far-sighted moment in British history. It’s a really difficult thing to do when you’ve lived through such incredibly violent times and everybody has experienced such loss. How do you see the humanity in people that you’ve been raised to believe are evil. How do you bring a nation back from destruction? How do you respond to the aftermath of something so monstrous and horrific? How do you get through to the other side? We've read a lot of 'Second World War' stories, and a lot of them are very black and white. It’s very much 'The Germans' are all evil, and 'The Allied' soldiers and civilians all good. To see Hamburg in 1945, the devastation, half the city was levelled and feral kids were running around the streets desperately trying to find food, that misery is heartbreaking. It shows the horrors of war on both sides. It’s not clear cut, and it’s not about winners and losers. It feels like a very different insight into 'The Post-Second World War Period'.
Of course, 'The European Union' came out of this moment, and it feels like this is something that speak to us very directly now. It’s a beautiful story of love and loss and human resilience; about our capacity to, after going through the most horrific chapter in human history, reinvent yourself and begin again. But it’s also a film with a larger message about the importance of forgiveness, compassion, and the fundamental need for human connection. We live at a time when we've a refugee crisis on our hands, our politics are shifting and we've a crisis of international understanding across 'The Western World'. We've a responsibility to the future, just as the generation had in 1945, and their challenge was much larger than ours, and they rose to it.