Review: A Promise falls flat

04:40, Jul 17 2014
A Promise
PORTENTOUS DIALOGUE: A Promise doesn't convince.

Directed by Patrice Leconte

Friedrich Zeitz (Richard Madden) has made an instant impression. Not only on new boss Herr Karl Hoffmeister (Alan Rickman) but also his wife - Frau Lotte Hoffmeister (Rebecca Hall).
Zeitz's forward thinking and attention to detail quickly earns the engineering graduate a promotion and when Herr Hoffmeister is struck down by a "quite serious health condition" there's only one man he trusts to keep an eye on his affairs.

However, the more time Zeitz spends around the Hoffmeister household the more he becomes entranced by Lotte and the further convinced he is that she shares his affections.

So when Herr Hoffmeister insists Zeitz moves in so he can better serve his private secretary duties, it just seems to be inviting trouble.

Based on Viennese writer Stefan Zweig's (whose writing's inspired Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel) 1976 novella Journey into the Past, A Promise is a lavish looking period drama filled with gorgeous costumes and an impressive leading trio of actors.
Unfortunately, French director Patrice Leconte's (Intimate Strangers, The Widow of St Pierre) English-language debut is let down by overly portentous and arch dialogue.
"It's a fine portrait of you - but unfaithful," Zeitz says to Lotte and an atmosphere that rivals Hall-in-a-corset in looking like it desperately needs some air.
Sure the set up rivals some terrific cinematic frustrated romances like The End of the Affair, The Deep Blue Sea or The Age of Innocence, but here the story feels like it is trying too hard to make sure we know they should be together and that that probably ain't going to happen - it's like binge-watching the first few seasons of Friends.
To his credit, Leconte tries to lift proceedings via Gabriel Yared's (Cold Mountain, A Royal Affair) urgent, driving score and some nifty camerawork (a switch to handheld cameras when a young boy disappears is particularly effective at portraying the rising panic in the household).
However, when you find yourself agreeing with a character who says "it took us a long time to get here" in a 98-minute movie, you know something wasn't quite right.