Patrice Leconte's latest, inoffensive period piece brings together Alan Rickman and Rebecca Hall
Considering his feature film career stretches back almost 40 years, it’s a surprise that Patrice Leconte has finally made his first English-language film. A Promise, however, qualifies as something of a Euro pudding. This French director and his English-speaking cast travelled to Belgium to shoot a German-set story written by an Austrian. That author is Stefan Zweig, whose work inspired the far-more imaginative Wes Anderson effort The Grand Budapest Hotel earlier this year.
A Promise comes from Zweig’s posthumously published novella Journey Into the Past, a meditation on love, loss, wealth and class. Set in 1912, with Germany in the midst of huge industrial evolution, Alan Rickman plays a well-to-do steel factory owner named Karl Hoffmeister, married to the much-younger Lotte (Rebecca Hall), whose chief function seems to be playing Beethoven in the drawing room.
Already in poor health, Hoffmeister hires an assistant in the young, handsome and capable Friedrich Zeitz (Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden). The signposts immediately point to an affair between Friedrich and Lotte, though Leconte goes for the slow-burn approach, as emotions flourish with all the speed of a flower unfolding its petals in the sunshine. It doesn’t help that inconveniences like World War I get in the way of their evident love for each other, as separation seems to be the main villain of the piece.
While A Promise is tasteful enough, the sort of film you can safely take a conservative relative along to, you can’t help but pine for Leconte’s previous forays into period drama. Films like Ridicule and The Widow of Saint-Pierre delivered their stories with far more bite. Rickman, Hall and Madden are perfectly decent, though this sort of sub-Merchant Ivory material rather fritters away their collective talents. The result is as inoffensive as living room wallpaper, though that’s hardly a recommendation.
Selected release from Fri 1 Aug.