Updated: Aug 21, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; R for sexual content/nudity, and violence including some disturbing images; streaming via Amazon Prime/Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Feature commentary by director James Kent
IF VIEWERS can get past the predictable plot of “The Aftermath,” there’s enough to enjoy in this post-World War II melodrama to make it worthwhile.
Directed by James Kent (“Testament of Youth”), and based on a novel by Rhidian Brook, “The Aftermath” revolves around Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightly), the troubled wife of Lewis, a British Army colonel (Jason Clarke). It’s 1945, and Rachael arrives in Hamburg, Germany, to join Lewis, whose work involves identifying former members of the Nazi party and current members of the violent Werewolf underground movement.
Germany’s second-largest city had suffered an especially devastating Allied attack over the course of one weekend. More than 40,000 of Hamburg’s citizens died in the fire-bombing, the city was nearly reduced to rubble, and its survivors are desperate for food and shelter. Rachael soon learns that Lewis has requisitioned an elegant villa for them to live in. The house is still inhabited by its handsome architect owner, Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård), and his teenaged daughter Freda (Flora Li Thiemann), who expect to have to move to a displaced person’s camp. Instead, to Rachael’s horror, Lewis offers to let the Luberts live in the attic, while he and Rachael avail themselves of the house’s lovely furnishings, as well as its servants. Before long, we discover the cause of Rachael’s sad demeanor, as well as her enmity toward all Germans: her young son was killed in the German bombing of London – a tragedy which has also damaged her relationship with her husband.
Coincidentally, (ahem), Lupert’s wife has died in the Allied bombing of Hamburg. Can you see where this is going? Add to that, the heavy-handed (pardon the pun) use of Stefan’s splendid Steinway piano, which had previously been played by both his late wife and Freda – and later, by Rachael. Ach du lieber! What saves “The Aftermath” are all the fine performances; the convincing VFX imagery, especially of the ruined city; and the authentic-looking period costumes and production design.
With its limited art house release ($1.6 million U.S. box office and $9 million worldwide), the British production was a perfect 4K/HDR release for digital platforms. It was too expensive to warrant a physical 4K release. German cinematographer Franz Lustig, who’s spent much of his career-filming commercials, decided with the director to frame “The Aftermath” in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
HDR toning is first-rate, setting it apart from the HD versions with bright highlights from strong window light in several scenes to an expansive color palette and warm tones during a Christmas party at a swanky hotel to a small dinner party at the villa. The shadows are also detailed. Black is solid in a scene inside bombed out basement. Lustig used lightweight 2.8K digital cameras mounted with a new MiniHawk lens that delivers a subtle old school anamorphic flare to the imagery.
More likely it was mastered in 2K and then upconverted to 4K with the number of VFX shots and rendering needed to recreate Hamburg. Fine facial detail was somewhat disappointing on 4K, a product of reduced online compression rates (no buffer issues were evident) compared to physical discs. Its onscreen resolution was similar to the Blu-ray, while the HDR coding gives it a true cinematic experience.
The Blu-ray includes the superior six-channel uncompressed DTS HD soundtrack, while the streaming sites output the compressed Dolby Digital track. The dialogue-driven plot keeps everything front and center, except during the dinning scenes which has plenty of ambient sounds, and in a couple of outdoor instants when guns are fired. The orchestral score from composer Martin Phipps (“Victoria,” “Woman in Gold”) is lush and full of strings and solo piano. The centerpiece is Claude Debussy’s romantic “Clair de Lune, L. 32.”
Include deleted scenes, with optional director commentary; an impressive sampling of VFX progressions; a making-of featurette; and a photo gallery.
Kent’s feature commentary is quite good, despite his tendency to describe the action. He mentions the metaphor of “the devastation caused by a dreadful world war … for a woman’s state of mind.” It’s also, he adds, “a story for our times … about the need for greater understanding.” Kent says the film is “about loss and grief … and the capacity to recover from loss.”
Much of “The Aftermath” was filmed in Prague, including the outside shots of the villa, during an especially cold winter in the Czech Republic. Kent was grateful for the “gift” of plenty of snow for the shoot. The novel on which the film is based was inspired by a true story. Rhidian Brook’s grandfather was stationed in Hamburg, requisitioned a house, and allowed the German owners to stay on in the attic.
Kent says he spent months trying to make sure the tone of Martin Phipps’ musical score was right, not too sentimental. He describes the “force of music as a means of strength and recovery,” as exemplified by Rachael and Freda’s rapprochement when they play the piano together. Steinways, he adds, are manufactured in Hamburg. He also points out that Knightley’s heartbeat was recorded and used as an undertone to the music in her love scenes. The fact that she had recently had a baby informed her performance of Rachael’s continued grief over her son’s death. He praises the efforts required by Jason Clarke, an Australian, to speak with an English accent; and Skarsgård, who is Swedish, who had to learn German, as well as to speak English with a German accent.
Kent says his direction style was inspired by the films of David Lean (“Brief Encounter”) and Anthony Minghella, in terms of the many close-ups, lack of “clutter” in a frame, and the use of silence.
— Peggy Earle and Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
A Christmas toast to celebrate the news of Lewis' new posting and a move back to London. Rachael desperately confesses her affair to Lewis.
Stefan waits to take Rachael to his ski lodge in the mountains. Now Rachael must decided: her husband or Stefan?