The Promise Is Less Cheesy Than I Feared


In some ways, 2016’s The Promise seemed like it was going to be an old-school Serious Historical Drama movie, given that it focuses on a love triangle during the Armenian Genocide (when, in 1915 just at the outbreak of World War I, the Ottoman government attempted to systematically murder their Armenian citizens) — but the kind of old-school movie where it is kind of ridiculous to be worrying about a love triangle when people are being murdered right and left. Fearing shmaltz, I avoided it, but given the current dearth of frock flicks to review, I decided to give it a whirl. Well, reader, I am now IN LOVE WITH MY NEW BOYFRIEND Oscar Isaac, and in general, I quite enjoyed the movie!

Oh, it has its shmaltzy bits, particularly main love interest Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), who is the Historical Manic Pixie Dream Girl incarnate. She’s Armenian but traveled with her eccentric father, then studied at the Sorbonne in Paris (which checks out — the first female student was in 1883). She’s now back in Constantinople teaching modern dance to some students and having a long-term, unmarried, shacked up affair with an American journalist, which no one seems to bat an eye at.

Backing up, however, we meet Isaac’s character, Mikael, who is an Armenian student from a small town who has moved to Constantinople to study medicine. He meets Ana and falls in love, but she’s got that American boyfriend (Christian Bale) — AND he’s engaged to a local girl (played by Angela Sarafyan of Westworld). Things get complicated, but then World War I gets going followed by the genocide, and the focus of the film shifts — in a good way!

I do think the film was trying to do too much by cramming the love triangle into a story that is clearly trying to show the range of the Armenian Genocide — forced migrations, prison labor camps, mass murders, resistance, and international concern. And I wish there had been more backstory and context as to why and how the genocide got underway — although that’s a hard thing to do, as the reality is most genocides seem to take place amongst peoples who were living together for centuries with some tensions that suddenly go from “that’s complicated” to “holy shit they’re killing everyone.” (Here’s some good backstory from Time magazine.)

That being said, I found the film interesting, more for the historical events portrayed than the love story, which wraps up in a super cheeseball manner (no spoilers!).

The costumes were designed by French designer Pierre-Yves Gayraud (L’Allée du Roi, Perfume: the Story of a MurdererThe Countess, In Secret, Babylon Berlin) working with Tirelli Costumi, but unfortunately the film did badly enough that there’s no press with Gayraud to draw on. In general, I liked the costumes — Ana was glamorous but also fashion-forward/artistic-y, the traditional costumes were beautiful, and everyone looked believable. Of course, the second half of the movie is Not Shiny at all, as everyone is basically suffering.

Best of all, I got to gaze on the face of my new boyfriend for over two hours, so all in all, I’d give it a doesn’t-achieve-all-it-wants-but-worth-a-whirl thumbs up!

2016 The Promise

In Mikael’s hometown, this well-to-do lady is still wearing a late 1890s silhouette.

2016 The Promise

At their engagement, fiancée Maral is in traditional clothing.

2016 The Promise

Mikael arrives in Constantinople dressed in rustic-but-trying-to-look-serious wear.

2016 The Promise

He stays with his wealthy uncle and aunt (Alicia Borrachero of Morocco: Love in Times of War), who is up-to-date in her high-waisted skirt.

2016 The Promise

I side-eyed Ana’s hair here…

2016 The Promise

But decided to let it slide as she’s teaching modern dance and is all artsy.

2016 The Promise

Ana wears a glamorous blue evening dress…

2016 The Promise

And does some belly dancing later in a cabaret with a LOT of torso flexibility, leading me to wonder what was up in terms of corsetry.

2016 The Promise

She gets a GREAT hat for an afternoon party, while Mikael is dressed in urban cosmopolitan wear.

2016 The Promise


2016 The Promise

Contrast Mikael’s suit to his country wear above.

2016 The Promise

Things start to go south and Mikael and Ana get it on…

2016 The Promise

And thereby answer my corsetry question! She’s wearing a very softly boned, waist-length “bust bodice,” which would be very forward-thinking — but that suits her character.

2016 The Promise

Later costumes are realistic and appropriately gritty.

2016 The Promise

Maral dresses in Western-style clothes that are again out of date compared to Ana’s wardrobe.

2016 The Promise

And goes more traditional for her wedding dress.


Have you seen The Promise?


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

9 Responses

  1. Valéria Fernandes Da Silva

    Not a perfect movie, but I loved it. As a historian, I wished to watched more movies about the Armenina Genocides. This first visit is a decent one and I love Oscar Isaac. :) Unfortunately, It was not released in home video in my country, I’d buy the bluray if I could.

  2. Susan Pola Staples

    You can have Mikal (your new boyfriend) but I have dibs on the hat Ana wears.💘💘💘💕💝

  3. LadySlippers

    Oscar Isaac is pretty amazing it a few different movies. Oh and his acting isn’t bad either. 😉 I haven’t seen this but will put it on my to-watch list.

  4. Ms. Heather Ripley

    Found it on Netflix, thanks for the review! I also adore Oscar Isaac, just saw him in The Two Faces of January.

  5. Northcountry girl

    If you are interested in the Armenian Genocide, take a look at The Cut from 2014. I thought it was an excellent film. It’s on DVD, but you can also rent it on streaming services.