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Review by Rich Cline |
dir James Kent
scr Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse, Rhidian Brook
prd Ridley Scott, Jack Arbuthnott, Malte Grunert
with Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Clarke, Martin Compston, Flora Thiemann, Kate Phillips, Jannik Schumann, Fionn O'Shea, Anna Katharina Schimrigk, Alexander Scheer, Tom Bell, Frederick Preston
release UK 1.Mar.19,
19/UK Fox 1h48
Sumptuously produced and finely acted by a solid cast, this post-war drama ultimately collapses under the weight of a soggy script. Director James Kent maintains a level of subtlety that sits at odds with the rampant melodrama and obvious plotting. It's watchable simply because it's skilfully put together, but the corny series of events increasingly feels like a tawdry soap rather than a thoughtful drama.
As Hamburg begins reconstruction in the winter of 1945, British officer Lewis (Clarke) brings his wife Rachael (Knightley) over from London. Still grieving over their son's death in a German bombing raid, she's shaken to find that the owner of their palatial home hasn't yet been rehoused to a camp. Stefan (Skarsgard) is a hot single-dad architect with a surly teen daughter, Freda (Thiemann). And since Lewis remains withdrawn following their son's death, Racheal finds herself inexorably drawn to Stefan. Meanwhile, Freda cosies up to hunky Nazi boy Albert (Schumann), who's planning an attack.
There are several fascinating things going on dramatically between the characters, which draw the audience into the story. The tension between the English and German characters is vivid: they've suffered tragedy at each others' hands and don't trust each other at all. And Rachael is understandably frustrated that Lewis continues to keep his distance while maintaining a stiff upper lip about everything. But the film also strains to present Lewis as a genuinely good man who rejects the trigger-happy bigotry around him, as represented by his colleague Burnham (a thankless role for Compston).
Knightley's character has the most complexity, and she brings a range of humour, anguish and steeliness to Rachael that keeps her sympathetic. Frankly it's impossible that she wouldn't fall for the impossibly dishy Skarsgard, who basically just needs to look gorgeous as Stefan while occasionally shading the character with his own grief over his wife, killed in an Allied bombing. Clarke's Lewis, by contrast, just seems hollow until the writers decide that he isn't, after which he has more textures to play.
Despite Kent's adept direction and the cast's sturdy work, there isn't a moment in this film that feels believable. Costumes (especially Knightley's) are spectacularly tailored, but are over-designed to resemble the fantasy within Rachael's head. And frankly this central narrative drifts dangerously close to frustrated-housewife porn. So as the various story threads come together in the final act, the drama loses its grip, beginning instead to feel overpoweringly sappy.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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