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This review is from: The Promise [DVD] (DVD)
The Promise [DVD]The Promise is two stories in one. In 2005 an 18-year-old Londoner, Erin, agrees to accompany her best friend, Eliza, to Israel, where she has to do her National Service. Eliza's parents live there in some luxury, and so far as Erin's concerned, it's just a great holiday. For a couple of months, she'll give Eliza moral support while she completes her basic training. Eliza will only be home at weekends, so the rest of the time Erin will chill out by the family swimming pool. When we first see her, she seems quite a moody and superficial girl - her main interests appear to be shopping and clubbing - and she certainly doesn't have a political brain cell in her head.
The other story starts in 1945 and is about Erin's grandfather Len, a sergeant in the Parachute Regiment. He has come through the Second World War where his last task was to liberate Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The experience is worse than anything he has witnessed in the war; not only are there piles of emaciated bodies, but people are still dying in large numbers because they are too weak to be saved. As a career soldier, he is then posted to Palestine, occupied by the British at that time, where he is shocked to find that he has to intern Jewish holocaust survivors, who are flooding into the country, behind wire fences. The authorities fear that allowing unrestricted immigration will spark an Arab revolt.
Erin hardly knows her grandfather, who is in hospital with a stroke, but she finds a diary of his from the time and takes it with her to Israel. Her learning about the conflict then, with the Jews fighting against the British for independence, runs in parallel with learning about the present-day conflicts in the country, and the film draws on the similarities between the two. So far as the British authorities were concerned, the Jewish freedom fighters were terrorists; in the Israel in which she finds herself, that label is given to Palestinian fighters. Len gets into a relationship with a Jewish holocaust survivor but also becomes friends with an Arab family. Erin is introduced to the modern-day complexities by Eliza's peacenik brother and through him meets an Arab. There's an entertaining scene where she invites him back to the house and you'd need a chainsaw to cut the atmosphere; Eliza's parents are liberals, but this is a relative term in their world.
Having read in the diary that her grandfather has left unfinished business in the country, she sets out to find the people involved. This takes her into dangerous territory with heartbreaking results and her loyalties tested. Len experiences similar dilemmas as the conflict intensifies.
What moved me was the sheer humanity of the main two characters. Although a battle-hardened soldier, Len is sensitive and caring; you'd want him as a friend. Although she's had a much easier life, Erin displays similar qualities of courage and compassion when tested. Claire Foy and Christian Cooke give terrific performances as Erin and Len, and are well supported by the cast. Katharina Schuettler is impressive as Len's girlfriend Clara, and Luke Allen-Gale as Len's best mate, cheery cockney Jackie Clough. Perdita Weeks as Eliza also gives a good performance as a liberal Londoner whose attitudes harden as she becomes an Israeli soldier.
This is one of the most powerful dramas I've ever watched, but I wouldn't take anything in it as Gospel. It has, however, given me a desire to learn about the actual history and present-day situation in Israel.