Film review: The Promise

Telling a devastating tale of genocide against the backdrop of the First World War, The Promise is moving and involving

by Danielle Woodward

With sweeping, extravagant scenes, and a love triangle at the centre of it all, Hotel Rwanda director Terry George tackles the largely uncovered Armenian genocide during the First World War. The film's tendency to delve into soap opera territory has been noted (as in this Guardian review) but despite the clichés, it is believable and heartbreaking, as it deals with human courage in the face of war and the worst of human behaviour.

The film starts during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, in 1914. We meet Armenian Michael (Oscar Isaac), who wants to become a doctor. To afford the fees, he gets betrothed to a local woman and uses the dowry to study in Constantinople.

Once he arrives, he falls for Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), who tutors Michael's nieces, but she’s already involved with the American journalist Chris (Christian Bale), who is reporting on the growing tensions between Turkey and Armenia. War then breaks out and they are all caught in the middle of a terrifying situation.

The love triangle is a well-used anchor to centre around larger events, but it works to bring humanity and emotion to the backdrop of war. The Promise is a fairly long film, but the pace is steady and the harrowing events keep you glued to the screen, as you wonder if any of the characters will survive. You are left at the end with a mix of deep sadness and admiration for the resilience of the human spirit in the face of so much hate and destruction.

The Promise is out in UK cinemas from today