First Hit: It took a while to develop, but Keira Knightley (as Rachael Morgan) made it work.
Keira Knightley has developed into a wonderful actress, and her look and presence are uniquely suited to period pieces.
The beginning shows Rachael on a train arriving in Hamburg, Germany. It’s a few short months after WWII has ended. She’s coming from England because her husband Captain Lewis Morgan is in charge of rounding up the remaining Hitler supporters, keeping peace in Hamburg, and trying to make things better for the ruined city.
This is a difficult position for him to be in and we see it in his face and demeanor. One thinks that having his wife join him that it will be better. But when he meets Rachael at the train station, there is a distance between them because they barely hug, and she turns her head away when he awkwardly attempts to kiss her. Something has happened between them, and this part of the story takes a long time to unfold.
Because of the distance between them, Lewis can’t share the difficulty he has with his job. He’s not only battling something that’s gone wrong with Rachael, but he is also facing own past actions in the war, and now he’s managing the aftermath of the war and its ugliness.
The Germans are giving up their surviving homes to the British who are managing this reconstruction. Because Lewis is the highest ranking, he gets the best home. They move into a large luxury home belonging to Stephen Lubert and his daughter Freda (Alexander Skarsgard and Flora Thiemann respectively).
Stephen’s wife died in a firestorm bombing by the Allied forces, and because of this, Freda acts out and is very resentful that the British are living in their home. Stephen and Freda are supposed to move to a camp, but Lewis’ kind heart convinces Rachael that he wants to offer the Luberts a place to stay.
The angst of Rachael and Lewis unfolds as the audience slowly learns that they had a son who died years earlier during a bombing run by the Germans over London.
Feeling very separate from her husband, Rachael’s inner passion is sparked to life by Stephen’s advances.
In another part of the story we see Freda and Rachael have a beautiful moment together at the piano but Freda’s resentment at the loss of her mother, home, and feeling distance from her father, she gets involved with Nazi sympathizers who want information to harm Lewis.
In addition to this, the inner conflict of Lewis is continually brought to a head by one of his fellow officers Burnham (Martin Compston) who is hell-bent on continuing to make the Germans suffer. Lewis is more reflective, seeing the pain of both sides, while Burnham wants the Allied victory to be oppressive and pronounced.
As Rachael and Stephen’s relationship grows, the distance between Rachael and Lewis becomes more pronounced, until the deep hurt and resentment come to the foreground. Will the attempt to heal their struggle be too little too late or can they reconcile.
That’s the point of the film. As I indicated it took a meandering path, and the story wasn’t really engaging, but because the camera stays on Knightley (as Rachael) it holds together because she made it work.
Knightley was excellent. She’s full of passion and approaches it angularly. I like how Kiera can project sexuality while also being proper. She’s very skilled. Clarke is keen as the embattled Army Captain who is battling both inner and outer battles. He’s effective at creating that hidden volcano look. Skarsgard was terrific as the lonely man attempting to deal with the ravages of war including the loss of his wife and the distance between him and his daughter. Thiemann was terrific as the young girl, lost. With no mother, distant father, finding some solace with a Nazi sympathizer teaches her what really is essential. Compston was good as the soldier wanting to assert his power over the Germans. Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse wrote the screenplay. It languished from time to time, but it did pay off in the end. James Kent adequately directed this film, but it was Knightley that made it really work.
Overall: It wasn’t a great film, and it did have something to say about sharing your pain with your partner.