Keira Knightley calls The Aftermath the 'loveliest job' she's been on
English actress Keira Knightley talks about movie's themes of love and loss, and working with Jason Clarke and Alexander Skarsgard
In what must be the umpteenth period offering from Keira Knightley, the English actress plays a woman "shattered by grief" in The Aftermath, set in the ruins of Hamburg after the end of World War II.
Opening here tomorrow, the romantic drama sees Knightley's Rachael Morgan arrive in Germany to reunite with her British colonel husband Lewis (Jason Clarke), after which the couple move into a grand house owned by German widower Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard) and his troubled daughter.
At first, Rachael is resentful at the prospect of living with the enemy as she tries to rebuild her fractured relationship with her husband, as they both struggle to come to terms with the death of their son during the war.
But she discovers Lubert, too, is grieving the loss of his wife.
Knightley, 33, was immediately drawn to the screenplay, based on an original story by Rhidian Brook who wrote a 2013 novel, The Aftermath, and its themes of love and loss.
She said: "I think it was the idea of rebuilding and how that is possible after tremendous tragedy, both in terms of the emotional storyline with Rachael and then the physical rebuilding of cities.
"I felt like the 1940s and the second World War was a period that I've done in quite a few films but I'd never looked at the aftermath of a conflict before and I thought that was a really interesting take on it."
With her husband more emotionally and physically absent, Rachael slowly begins a relationship with Lubert.
Knightley said: "For me personally - and this isn't the way that everybody sees it - I sort of saw the affair with Lubert as having two parts to it.
"In some ways, Rachael recognises Lubert's own tragedy and his own grief... And also, an explosion has to happen between Rachael and Lewis for them to be able to get back together because something has to bring it to a head and I think in a way we do know that with relationships - you are aware when there has to be a bomb that has to go off to get through something.
"I'm not saying that always has to be infidelity, but I should imagine that sometimes it is.
"She must have suddenly felt like she could breathe again and was alive again."
Knightley had worked with Clarke on Everest (2015) - he played a mountaineer who died and Knightley was his wife - and was delighted to team up with the Australian again.
"It never works out very well when Jason and I play husband and wife," she joked.
"In that one he dies and in this one our son dies so we should try and do one where we live happily ever after."
She added: "I love working with Jason. He is a phenomenal actor, and I really like him as a bloke. We have a lot of fun, which is funny because on Everest I was sobbing the entire time and on this one we're playing a couple wrenched apart by grief.
"But honestly, this whole job was one of the loveliest, if not the loveliest job I've been on and that was hugely to do with (director) James Kent who I think is the nicest man I've ever met."
Swedish heart-throb Skarsgard was also "just another lovely, lovely man".
Knightley said: "He is a wonderful actor and a complete sweetheart. This film felt like a real privilege because it's very rare that you can say, hand on heart, that everybody was spectacularly lovely."
Just as much of a godsend was The Aftermath's production design.
The exterior scenes, showing a devastated post-war Hamburg, were filmed in Prague in extreme conditions.
"We got to Prague and it was the coldest winter since 1937 - it was absolutely freezing and there was this blanket of snow the entire time we were there.
"It almost looked fake. I've never seen that amount of snow before and it really was quite extraordinary so we were very lucky and very cold at the same time," she said with a laugh.