A Promise (2013)

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Set in Germany in 1912, A Promise tells the story of Frederic Zeitz (Richard Madden), a young man from a humble background who begins a job at a steelworks. His boss is Karl Hoffmeister (Alan Rickman) who quickly takes a shine to the hardworking and intelligent young man and does not hesitate in promoting him, especially due to his own ailing health, until eventually Frederic becomes his own personal secretary. Acting also as a teacher to Herr Hoffmeister’s son Otto, Frederic is soon an integral part of the Hoffmeister family, making quite an impression on Karl’s young wife Lotte (Rebecca Hall). As Frederic moves in to the family home and bonds with Lotte and Otto, seemingly to have more in common with the young woman than her aging husband, Karl begins to observe how well the two are getting on. He soon sends Frederic to Mexico for two years on business but before he goes, Lotte declares her love to Frederic and makes him a promise that when he returns they will be together, if their love withstands the time apart.

The synopsis doesn’t sound original and unfortunately the film isn’t original at all, offering a lacklustre romance tale with little to make it memorable or exciting. The acting is adequate but even the likes of the majestic Rickman are diluted, feeling miscast as such a sappy and uncharismatic man. Hall does a fine job in a dull role but Madden is just irritating in the lead role of Frederic, having little charm or charisma to speak of, resulting in Lotte falling for him being completely implausible.

The main problem is a lack of chemistry and passion, which in a romance is what everything hinges on. The build-up to the declaration is far too drawn out, with Lotte’s confession feeling unconvincing followed by an ending that is rushed and extremely anti-climactic. There really is not much to like about these characters, there is also nothing to dislike about them as well, they are mediocre and the plot is clichéd and uninspiring.

Perhaps the worst part of the film is the letters that the two write to one another in their separation; it is difficult to believe in these overt affirmations of love when the audience has not been able to invest in this romance, as there hasn’t really been one.

The set design and costumes are convincing but the film has no distinct visual style to speak of in order to redeem from its lifeless story. The opening credits in fact should warn people immediately to the kind of film this will be; cheap romance novel style orange lettering on a black background, emotionally unsatisfying and not particularly aesthetically pleasing.

However, somehow the film did retain my attention throughout so there must have been something there. Maybe an innate curiosity at how a romance film can be made without any passion whatsoever.

Overall, flat characters and an unoriginal plot leave this romantic period drama a disappointing affair.

Director: Patrice Leconte
Writers: Patrice Leconte, Jérôme Tonnerre (screenplay)
Stars: Alan Rickman, Rebecca Hall, Richard Madden
Runtime:  95 mins
Country: France, Belgium

Film Rating: ★½☆☆☆

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