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The Promise highlights little explored history of Armenian genocide

By on May 2, 2017
The Promise

The Promise is “a valuable memorial” to the Armenians who died as a result of Ottoman policies in 1915, writes Ruth Allen – “as well as a celebration of the lives of those who survived”. Also, a “mesmerising” performance from Florence Pugh in Lady Macbeth is nothing to do with the Scottish play – but the themes are echoed as this chilling Russian tale is transported to 1860s northern rural England.


(Run time: 2h12, Director: Terry George, Cast: Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale, Charlotte Le Bon, Angela Sarafyan, Tom Hollander, Jean Reno)

Synopsis: Set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, The Promise follows a love triangle between Michael, a brilliant medical student, the beautiful and cultured, Ana and Chris -a renowned American journalist based in Paris.

Director Terry George [In the Name of the Father (1993); Hotel Rwanda (2004) Reservation Road (2007)] has always made socially relevant films and now he has tackled the touchy subject of the Armenian genocide, when in 1915 some 1.5 million Armenians died during a ‘relocation programme’, which Turkey and a high proportion of countries still do not acknowledge as genocide.

For this reason, The Promise is worth the price of the cinema ticket, with its highlighting of a little explored avenue of history.

Framed as a sweeping period epic with a triangular love story at its heart, the film has a stellar cast, with the charismatic Oscar Isaac [The Two Faces of January (2014); Ex Machina (2014); A Most Violent Year (2014); Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)] as Armenian medical student Michael Boghosian; Christian Bale [The Big Short (2015); American Hustle (2013), Out of the Furnace (2013)], as journalist Chris Myers; and Charlotte Le Bon [Bastille Day (2016);The Hundred-Foot Journey(2014);Yves Saint Laurent (2014)] as Ana Khesarian.

The many locations are beautifully shot by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe and the evocative soundtrack from Gabriel Yared adds authenticity.

It is 1914. As the Great War looms, the once great Ottoman Empire is crumbling. Constantinople, the vibrant, multicultural capital on the shores of the Bosporus, is about to be consumed by chaos. Michael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), arrives in the cosmopolitan hub as a medical student, determined to bring modern medicine back to Siroun, his ancestral village in Southern Turkey, where Turkish Muslims and Armenian Christians have lived side by side for centuries.

Photo-journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale) has arrived in Europe ostensibly to cover geo-politics, but he is mesmerised by his love for Ana (Charlotte le Bon), an Armenian artist he has accompanied from Paris after the sudden death of her father.

When Michael meets Ana, their shared Armenian heritage sparks an attraction that explodes into a romantic rivalry between the two men. As the Turks form an alliance with Germany and the Empire turns violently against its own ethnic minorities, their conflicting passions must be deferred while they join forces to survive as the events of the Great War threaten to overwhelm them.

Touched on in only two recent fiction films, Atom Egoyan’s Ararat (2002) and Fatih Akin’s The Cut (2014), the issue of the Armenian genocide is honourably dealt with in The Promise, a valuable memorial to the 80 per cent of Armenians who perished as a result of Ottoman wartime policies, as well as a celebration of the lives of those who survived.

Images courtesy of EOne


(Run time: 1h29, Director: William Oldroyd, Cast: Florence Pugh, Christopher Fairbank, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomie Ackie)

Synopsis: Rural England, 1865. Katherine is stifled by her loveless marriage to a bitter man twice her age, and his cold, unforgiving family. When she embarks on a passionate affair with a young worker on her husband’s estate, a force is unleashed inside her so powerful that she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

Theatre and Opera director William Oldroyd brings us this stunning, original film, adapted by Alice Birch from the mid-19th century Russian novella by Nikolai Leskov, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (which achieved its greatest notoriety in the 1930s Soviet Union in an operatic adaptation by Dmitri Shostakovich that fell foul of Stalin’s limited artistic tastes).

Although nothing to do with Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish play’, the mesmerising central performance from Florence Pugh, who shone as the charismatic Abbie in Carol Morley’s The Falling (2014), echoes the ambition, strength of will, cruelty and dissimulation of the Bard’s Lady Macbeth.

Now transposed to northern rural England in the 1860s with a windswept atmosphere redolent of the Brontes, Katherine (Florence Pugh) is a young girl married off to an older man, Alexander (Paul Hilton), as more of a business transaction than a love match.

Soon after a disastrous wedding night and imprisoned in an isolated, cold manor house, Katherine embarks on a reckless, passionate affair with a young stable hand, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis).

Examining issues of misogyny, racism, feminism and class as the film unfolds, we are taken into the mind of Katherine as she asserts her true psychopathic nature, with consequences that are chilling and brilliantly realised.

With atmospheric cinematography and spare, minimalist production design from Jacqueline Abrahams, the look of the film is reminiscent of the cool, subdued, symmetrical paintings of Danish artist, Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864-1916).

Overall a superb debut feature from director Oldroyd and confirmation of the precocious talent and skills of youthful Florence Pugh.

Images courtesy of ALTITUDE

 Lady Macbeth

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