The Promise (3 stars)

The Promise

Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac are romantic rivals in this involving but overcooked historical drama

This epic romantic drama delivers its history lesson in an attractively accessible, time-honoured cinematic fashion. In reminding us about an almost forgotten genocide, writer-director Terry George and co-writer Robin Swicord set a classic love triangle and the plight of a vibrant community against the backdrop of an historic horror: the still fiercely denied Turkish annihilation of the Armenians.

The story begins in 1914 when the crumbling Ottoman Empire allies itself with Germany in the Great War. That crisis and a stage-managed tide of mindless nationalism triggers chaos, before we witness the dismaying spectacle of people who have lived alongside each other amiably falling violently on their neighbours. Mankind is so disappointing.

Soulful Oscar Isaac – whose Guatemalan-Cuban heritage apparently makes him the American Alfred Molina, the go-to actor for a multiplicity of ethnicities – plays Mikael Boghosian, a poor but well-connected Armenian medical student in Constantinople. Quite naturally he falls in love with the vivacious, graceful Armenian beauty Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) who tutors his wealthy young cousins. But not only is honourable Mikael promised to a girl back in his ancestral village, Ana is in a relationship with a jealous lover – a well-known, daring American journalist (Christian Bale). The trio and their romantic problems are then engulfed by the much larger, harrowing and tragic events. Bigotry, detentions, executions, mass murders, obscene crimes against humanity, a refugee crisis: it's all horribly relevant.

Having made Hotel Rwanda, George knows what he's doing here. Handsomely cast (it features the likes of Tom Hollander, Jean Reno, James Cromwell, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Angela Sarafyan) and visually beautiful, it's also involving and heartrending. The romantic aspect is, however, overcooked in a Captain Corelli's Mandolin kind of way, with too much overt sentimentality to take.

General release from Fri 28 Apr.

The Promise

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • Spain / US
  • 2h 14min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Terry George
  • Cast: Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac, Shohreh Aghdashloo
  • UK release: 28 April 2017

Mikael (Isaac) is a poor Armenian medical student in Constantinople in 1914, who falls in love with the vivacious Ana (Le Bon), except that she’s already carrying on with the dashing American journalist Chris (Bale). Epic, handsomely cast but overcooked historical romance set against the backdrop of the Turkish genocide…