Director Patrice Leconte’s A Promise is an implausible, often ridiculous period drama revolving around a predictably doomed love affair.
Richard Madden stars as brooding Friedrich, an ambitious clerk in a steelworks in early 20th century Germany. He catches the eye of the boss Herr Hoffmeister, played by an austere Alan Rickman, who recruits Friedrich to be his private secretary. The promotion requires him to leave his life and wife in a working-class garrett to live in Rickman’s large manor house, which he enjoys because Rebecca Hall lives there.
She plays Lotte, Herr Hoffmeister’s young wife. Flirtatious glances and sensuous touches abound, but nothing comes of the illicit affair until Hall, with rotten timing, reveals her feelings the night before he sets sail for Mexico. They vow to get married when he returns, but World War I gets in the way.
Leconte has far too much fun playing will-they-won’t-they, and as a result his film feels unbalanced and unbelievable. Poor Hall is left to convey a decade of longing and anguish in about 20 minutes. The melodrama often tips over into the ridiculous, too, such as in one extended scene where Friedrich sniffs hungrily for Lotte’s scent at the keys of her piano.
Despite decent performances – especially from Rickman – A Promise doesn’t answer whether love can stand the test of time; it proves you need more time to tell a convincing love story.