I’m usually a huge fan of historical romance films - they’re my feel-good guilty pleasure. When I saw that A Promise features Madden and Rickman, I was really looking forward to watching it, as they give great performances in Game of Thrones and Harry Potter respectively. Sadly, this only made it feel worse when the film was a huge disappointment.
A Promise tries to fit roughly a decade into a time frame of 98 minutes, which is always risky, especially when a large chunk of this time takes up less than a third of the film, as most of the film is taken up with lingering romantic(ish) glances and not much else. The first 10 minutes move far too quickly, with little explanation of what’s going on, but it puts Friedrich Zeitz (Madden) conveniently in place to start falling in love with Lotte Hoffmeister (Hall), much to the annoyance of her husband, Karl Hoffmeister (Rickman), who seems to know exactly what’s going on throughout yet doesn’t do much about it. This pretty much ruins the whole "secret love affair" thing the film’s going for.
On top of the poor structuring of the film, there’s little in the way of chemistry between Hall and Madden, it felt so forced and unnatural that I didn’t believe that either of them had feelings for the other. When the whole film is meant to be a romance, that’s really disappointing. I didn’t really care about their relationship because there just didn’t seem to be one. Any good or bad things that happened to them didn’t really affect me, because I didn’t believe in their relationship.
As it’s based on the novella Journey into the Past by Stefan Zwieg I was really expecting more from the film, and compared to Wes Anderson’s beautiful adaptation of Zwieg’s work (The Grand Budapest Hotel), it fell flat to say the least. Perhaps I went into viewing this film expecting too much from it, but I think it could’ve been done much, much better.
The one positive thing I have to say about this film is that the costumes, décor, and music were all really great quality, and really brought the film to life - unlike the acting, writing, or any of the other things films are meant to employ to create a rounded and engaging world and story. The only promise you get from this film is that you’ll be able to nap well afterwards.