8 May 2019

Reviews - The Chaperone & The Aftermath

From At The Movies, 7:31 pm on 8 May 2019

The Chaperone (written by Downton Abbey's Julian Fellowes) and The Aftermath (starring Keira Knightley) are a little too reminiscent of older and better movies, according to Simon Morris.

Simon Morris: Downton Abbey was a television phenomenon, despite in retrospect an astonishing lack of content. It spent most of its time - the period before and after the First World War - ignoring the interesting stuff in favour of soapy antics above and below stairs.

Downton's creator Julian Fellowes does the same thing on The Chaperone.

The hook of the film is it purports to tell the story of 1920s movie star Louise Brooks, a sensation in films like Pandora's Box, now all but forgotten.

But Fellowes seems far more interested in the more mundane story of Louise's fictional chaperone Norma, played by Downton's Elizabeth McGovern.

And Fellowes' famous tin ear for dialogue is once again on display.

"Birth parents" feels more Oprah Winfrey than the Roaring Twenties, and so does much of The Chaperone.

If you're wondering what made Louise Brooks so fascinating and scandalous, you'll have to remain wondering I'm afraid.

It seems rather unsporting at the end when they play some actual clips of Louise Brooks herself over the closing credits.

A few seconds of silent, black and white footage from a century ago are absolutely riveting even today, and make The Chaperone seem even more plodding than it already does.

Meanwhile, another film for the older audience is equally shown up by some illustrious predecessors.

The Aftermath, set immediately after World War Two, stars Keira Knightley as Rachael, the wife of a British officer charged with clearing up the ruins of Hamburg in late 1945.

Lewis, played by Jason Clarke, is decent, hard-working, and understandably distracted by the mammoth task in front of him.

Lewis and Rachael are billeted in a stately home, owned by the Luberts - father and daughter.

As soon as you see Alexander Skarsgaard exchanging heated glances with Keira Knightley you have a pretty good idea where this might be going.

Look out Jason, Keira and Alexander are going to go all Brief Encounter on you shortly.

Brief Encounter was a famous tear-jerker conjured up by Noel Coward and David Lean at the end of the War, showing three decent people struggling with feelings too strong to be denied.

And in the background, ruined postwar Germany under the command of the Brits can't fail to remind you of another famous collaboration: Carol Reed and Graham Greene's The Third Man.

Brief Encounter meets The Third Man - how can it miss with the older audience? Particularly since the three stars are so attractive?

Well, it doesn't exactly miss, but when it hits it's a glancing blow at best.

The mostly computer-generated images of Hamburg, with barely a building standing and refugees being shepherded into camps are still shocking. But they obviously don't compare with the real-life footage of post-war Vienna in The Third Man.

And similarly, the slightly unconvincing romance of The Aftermath is dwarfed by the expert melodrama of Brief Encounter.

But those early films weren't aiming to attract a specific target audience. They just wanted to be good.

It's a novel approach these days, but it might be worth trying again.

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