A Promise
dir Patrice Leconte
scr Patrice Leconte, Jerome Tonnerre
prd Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
with Rebecca Hall, Alan Rickman, Richard Madden, Shannon Tarbet, Maggie Steed, Toby Murray, Jean-Louis Sbille, Sarah Messens, Jonathan Sawdon, Caroline Donnelly, Peter Kern, Andrew McIlroy
release US 16.Apr.14, UK 1.Aug.14
13/Belgium 1h38
A Promise
Forbidden love: Madden and Hall

hall rickman madden
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
A Promise Before the story even begins, Gabriel Yared's surging score informs us that we're in for a sweeping romance. Filmmaker Leconte brings his usual attention to detail, but oddly leaves everything on the surface, which makes the film rather forgettable. Perhaps this is because he's a Frenchman working in English to tell a German story filmed in Belgium.

In 1912 Germany, bright young engineer Friedrich (Madden) so impresses his sardonic boss Karl (Rickman) that he's promoted to be his personal assistant, essentially running the steelworks. Friedrich also begins tutoring Karl's son Otto (Murray), developing a not-so-subtle crush on Karl's much-younger wife Lotte (Hall), who never lets him see that the attraction is mutual. Once they finally admit it to each other, they make a vow not to act on it until after Friederich returns from a two-year assignment in Mexico. But the Great War delays their reunion much longer than that.

Leconte shoots in lavish Downton Abbey style with a terrific sense of the period, even if using British actors makes it feel rather artificial. There's also a bit too much social disparity between Karl's palatial mansion and Friedrich's uber-squalid garret. Friedrich has a perfectly lovely girlfriend in Anna (Tarbet), who clearly adores him even if he only has eyes for Lotte. And since the actors skilfully submerge feelings beneath proper behaviour, the emotions are so remote that they're impossible to identify with.

This oddly strips most of the texture from the story, leaving the side characters feeling sketchy. Like cats circling each other waiting to pounce, Hall, Madden and particularly Rickman create some superb tension, augmented by hints that Karl invited Friedrich into his home to inherit both his company and his family. But all of this remains tantalisingly out of reach, boiling over only in melodramatic encounters and brief sharp moments.

Fans of swoony romance will love it, especially with the repeated romantic piano pieces Lotte always seems to be playing in the next room, leaving both Karl and Friedrich panting with desire. But without more depth, Friedrich's yearning feels like a schoolboy crush from a little boy who knows better. Of course things get soppy and tortured as the war further separates them while no-one seems to age at all. But the conclusion is nicely awkward and emotional, not that you'd expect anything else.

cert 12 themes, sexuality 4.Jul.14

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