Writer/director Terry George’s new film, The Promise, arrives on UK shores this weekend amidst some resistance: the event it chronicles, the genocide of 1.5million Armenians from 1915, was one of the first modern genocides and has historically been surrounded in controversy. So much so that after the film was shown at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, IMDb registered over 57,000 one-star votes, which some commentators said was a campaign to downrate it by deniers of the genocide.

But none of that has derailed those involved in the film, particularly George, who says that the story was an important one that needed to be told, particularly as many modern audiences know little to nothing about the event. On the historical relevance, George told us:

“The fact that you don’t know much about the history speaks to the success of the Turkish governments who have repressed this story and denied it and kept it down in terms of acknowledging what took place for over a century – I, like you, didn’t know too much about it until I did research for Hotel Rwanda and came across books that referenced the Armenian genocide as the first big genocide of the 20th century.”

Christian Bale - The Promise

Indeed, the project was already in pre-production before George came on board. Writer Robin Swicord (Wakefield) had written the first pass of the script and through his research for his 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, the director knew that he wanted to make the film, saying:

“When I became engaged in the subject and was offered this script and read more and more about it I realised that this story needed to be told. Its relevance is such, and the fact it has been suppressed so much – there’s one particular event in history with Adolf Hitler while he was lecturing his general’s before they invaded Poland to show no mercy to man, woman or child said after that speech, “After all, who today remembers the Armenians?” – so the very lack of knowledge of that event became his justification. The power and the importance of genocide recognition was one of the key driving forces for me.”

In amongst the historical moments is a sweeping love story between the three lead characters: Armenian medical student Mikael (Oscar Isaac), who meets an Armenian-born woman Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) who was raised in France whilst staying with his uncle during his studies, and the two fall in love despite Ana being with Chris (Oscar Winner Christian Bale), an American journalist in Armenia to cover the stories. George says that once the script was written, it was Bale and Isaac’s interest that helped put the final pieces of the film together, saying:

“I rewrote the script out to various agents to see who would be interested and Christian was the first to put his hand up to it and say he was interested and then Oscar and built a cast around that. When you have the biggest stars in the world on board of course it helps and the fact that they were committed and totally into it that helped us overcome the tight schedule that we had.”

Charlotte Le Bon - The Promise

The director has been in the business for many years, being involved in such films as In The Name of The Father, The Boxer, and Reservation Road, but knows the ever-changing landscape of cinema means that the film may end up being seen on the small screen rather than the big screen as intended, saying:

“I like film. It has such a short lifespan in the cinema now though – if you’re successful you get two weekends if you’re not you get one and if you’re really successful you get three weekends. When I was growing up, films would run for one or two months but there’s little chance of that now unless you’re in one specific cinema. It’s a sad reality but bulk of your work is going to be watched in people’s homes – what I don’t like about that is that it’s broken up by adverts, or go to the bathroom or be on their phones while they’re watching it. All of us filmmakers want to be in the cinema.”

Aside from the historical connotations and controversies, George is proud of the film and hopes it finds an audience, despite its release on the cusp of the usual summer season bedlam with another big-budget film releases almost weekly at this point in the year. But the director says there are cinemas out there that will serve the film, saying:

“Cinema has become two things now – there’s the “amusement park” cinema and there’s the dramatic cinema and independent, dramatic films and the sooner as those two part ways the better. Take the multiplexes, show your stuff, give it sort of “sense-o-rama” and let’s develop a network of smaller, independent cinemas that adults can go to and see films that are of a different tone, and there is a network of these smaller cinemas dedicated to independent stuff in the US.”

The Promise is in UK cinemas on Friday, April 28th.