A review of the 2016 film “The Promise”

Set in in the collapsing Ottoman Empire during the First World War, “The Promise” is both a love-triangle and an historical drama. Brilliant Armenian medical student Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) and intrepid American war reporter Chris Meyers (Christian Bale) both fall for the beautiful Armenian-born but French-raised Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon) in a part of the world where the Turks are turning on the local Armenians in what will soon become a genocide.

The film has been controversial for two reasons.

First, Turkey still denies that there was a genocide in 1915-1923 resulting in the death of over a million Christian Armenians at the hands of local Muslim forces. The Turks lobbied against the making of the film, the $90M budget for which was totally funded by Armenian-American billionaire Kirk Kerkorian who died at 98 two years before the film’s release. However, over 30 countries, including the United States, France and Germany but not Britain, have recognised the systematic killings as constituting genocide.

Second, some critics and viewers have criticised the work for its fore-fronting of the love triangle – at the heart of which is the promise of the title – rather than the genocide itself. Yet “The Promise” is hardly the first movie to tell a big political and military story through the eyes of a small number of individuals who are romantically entwined (think, for instance, of “Dr Zhivago”) and, without this story, it is likely that even fewer people would have viewed the movie than actually did.

The three leading characters in the film are fictional, but a couple of minor characters – such as the American ambassador and the French admiral – are real and the historic framework is accurate if one-sided. British director and co-writer Terry George – who made the political drama “Hotel Rwanda” – can be proud of this work and I wish that more people would see it and think about the events it portrays.


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