No heat in this painful romance
Romantic dramas, films that explore the nature of passion, longing and love, are cinematic anachronisms in this day and age.
Who wants a rom-drom – an hour and a half of pure longing followed by a desperate farewell – when the latest rom-com features Cameron Diaz in her knickers?
Corseted romantic drama Promise, from French director Patrice Leconte, does nothing to dispel romantic drama’s reputation.
Sure, it ends with a kiss, but apart from that it’s all drom and very little real rom.
Set in Germany just before World War I, it starts with young up-and-coming steel worker Ludwig ( Game Of Thrones’ Richard Madden), catching the eye and
Aimagination of his ailing boss, Hoffmeister (Alan Rickman).
As Hoffmeister fades, Ludwig ascends, taking over Hoffmeister’s role in the business and his place in Hoffmeister’s beautiful, young and vivacious wife Lotte’s (Rebecca Hall) heart.
But it’s 1912, when people still gave a damn about propriety, respect, duty and all that malarkey.
So the lovelorn pair content themselves with a few brief, chaste touches and the glimpse of an ankle, and torture themselves with their admiration and affection for Hoffmeister.
It’s all incredibly painful, until Hoffmeister gives Ludwig his biggest responsibility yet – mining all the way off in Mexico – and then it becomes unbearable.
Awkward, tightly laced and desperate, A Promise could have been a Merchant Ivory-like confection of want, angst and social comment, but lacks the sensuality and visual sumptuousness to bring its staid story and upright period to life.
Much like the emotions of its subjects, Leconte’s visual style is superficial and melodramatic, with awkward and distancing crash zooms, weird low angles and sneaky ‘‘what the butler saw’’ point- of- view shots. It’s as distracting as the romance is tepid.
Indeed, ambitious Ludwig is often more effusive about his accounts than he ever is about Lotte.
As Ludwig appraises her body with an acquisitive eye, every inch the prospector her husband hired, Lotte seems just another step up the ladder towards Ludwig’s supremacy.
And for Lotte, Ludwig is little more than a chance to have a little of that rambunctious, breathstealing romance one imagines love is when one is 12.
To be fair, Madden and Hall make a beautiful couple, and Rickman is a charming, if deeply unsexy, figure next to them.
But, trapped in an endless winter as the film is – it takes place over more than a decade, yet we never see a spring or a summer – the passion utterly fails to ignite, and we’re left wondering what the point of it all is.
Chilly fire: Awkward, desperate lovers Lotte (Rebecca Hall) and Ludwig (Richard Madden) finally have their moment in the sun in A Promise.