Compelling drama is outside comfort zone

Written By: Stephen Kelly
Published: February 25, 2011 Last modified: February 23, 2011

When a mother and her daughter begin to rummage through the possessions of the hospitalised grandfather, the granddaughter unsuspectingly uncovers a diary covering his time in the army during and after the war. More precisely, it details his involvement in the liberation of Belsen and his subsequent period of duty in Palestine, then under British mandate. Mum is not impressed and looks to throw the old diary away, but daughter Erin smuggles it out as, by chance, she is about to spend her summer vacation in Israel with her best friend Eliza, who is returning for national service training.

Grandad’s exploits in British-occupied Palestine make for compulsive reading and suggest a mystery that has remained unresolved. Erin sets out to uncover the mystery and confront the demons that have dominated her grandfather’s life, as well as coming to some understanding of the events that have scarred the Middle East for the past 50 years. His predicament and the cruelties of the late 1940s show a remarkable similarity with what is happening today.

What follows is a complex tale of emotional and intellectual dilemmas that attempt to unravel and understand the conflicts of the past 70 years – an almost near-impossibility when it comes to Israel. And, as in the best of dramas, it’s a tale of twists and turns. At the centre of the drama is the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1948 when 91 soldiers and civilians were killed by the Zionist terrorist organisation Irgun, as they bombed Britain into creating a state of Israel. Jewish terrorism at the time, which involved bombings, assassinations and indiscriminate shootings, would show a marked parallel with later atrocities committed by Palestinians.

Back in 1948, Jews were the enemy of the British rather than the Palestinians who had lived peacefully for thousands of years on their land. But the influx of Jewish settlers from the pogroms, concentration camps and anti-Semitism of Europe, produced new conflicts and new demands. Herein lie the roots of the contemporary conflict. The past situation was not helped by outsiders such as the British, whose role in Palestine was not always exemplary, and the Labour Government of the time that was clearly complicit in sanctioning reprisals against the Jews. In particular, the role of the British Army is brought into question with Jews rounded up, branded on their foreheads and sent off to camps. There are so many parallels here that it makes for uncomfortable and certainly controversial viewing.

The Promise is as good as anything currently showing on British television. An international production, it’s beautifully filmed and superbly acted, particularly by young Claire Foy playing the teenager Erin, plus an international cast of the highest quality.  Of course, it’s controversial – but then anything on this subject is bound to be. Nonetheless, it genuinely attempts to unravel the roots of the current conflict by going back to the immediate post-war period and not being afraid to lay the blame. What writer/director Peter Kosminsky has produced is a multi-layered drama that is both thought-provoking and compelling.
Stephen Kelly