The house in “The Aftermath” looks a little like the Von Trapp home in “The Sound of Music”: stately, Germanic, an intimidating spot for a newcomer.
But there are no raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens at this joint. The Second World War has just ended, and things are tense inside and outside the home.
The newcomer is Rachael (Keira Knightley), still grieving over the loss of her son during the war. Her husband Lewis (Jason Clarke, late of “Serenity” and “First Man”) is a British colonel assigned to ferreting out the remaining Nazis in Hamburg.
They’ve been placed in the handsome manor of a widowed architect, Stefan (Alexander Skarsgard), and his teenage daughter (Flora Thiemann). These German residents, relegated to the top floor of the home, have a habit of hanging around the British visitors.
Let’s stop right there. I mean, there’s other stuff in the film, including sadness about the lost child, and the pursuit of Hamburg Nazis who are running around with a moronic “88” tattoo on their arms (if you haven’t heard, 88 is meant to signify “Heil Hitler,” as “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, a reference that neo-Nazis are still moronically using these days).
These are interesting subjects, presumably drawn from Rhidian Brook’s source novel. But this is a movie, and movie rules prevail, and when you put two super-hunky creatures like Keira Knightley and Alexander Skarsgard on the same screen, you expect certain outcomes.
On that score, “The Aftermath” does not disappoint. The film fails to psychologically prepare us for Rachael and Stefan abruptly unbuckling their costumes and getting busy on the nearest horizontal surface, but the casting makes it inevitable.
As attractive a couple as these two make, director James Kent manages to muffle the passion. Like his superficial period piece “Testament of Youth” (2014), this film is full of handsome set design and tragic people posing in front of windows.
Some of that is pleasant, and I enjoyed the calmness of the storytelling, which wrings a little bogus suspense out of whether Stefan might have been a Nazi himself. The most intriguing character is actually Clarke’s colonel, whose progressive attitudes are tested by the realities of bombed-out Hamburg.
But we don’t have time for him, because Knightley and Skarsgard are the main show. If the movie took time to build a world around them, perhaps the situation would have power beyond their heavy-breathing liaison. But it doesn’t, so the thing never becomes more than photogenic.
“The Aftermath” (2½ stars)
In post-World War II Hamburg, a British officer (Jason Clarke) and his grieving wife (Keira Knightley) share a manor with its German owner (Alexander Skarsgard). Given how attractive Knightley and Skarsgard are, there’s only one place for this superficial drama to go, and the pair are certainly photogenic.
Rating: R, for nudity, violence
Opening Friday: Oak Tree, Meridian