Northern Ireland

Terry George: 'It's a big old-fashioned love story'

Terry George promoting his film, The Promise in Los Angeles Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Terry George promoting his film, The Promise in Los Angeles

"It's a big old-fashioned love story in mode of Dr Zhivago or Ryan's Daughter."

Speaking to the BBC, that is how the Belfast-born director and screenwriter, Terry George, describes his new film The Promise, which opens in the UK this week.

But there is also another - darker - story told in the film, which stars Christian Bale, Oscar Issac and Charlotte Le Bon.

It is a love triangle set during the Armenian genocide, when over one million Armenians were massacred by the forces of the Ottoman empire during World War One.

"Charlotte's character and Oscar Issac's character are both Armenians, while Christian Bale's character is an American reporter covering the outbreak of war," said George.

'Drowning in the sea'

"The Ottoman government of that time took a decision to wipe out the whole Armenian nation."

The events are still controversial, as while Turkey has acknowledged that the Armenians suffered, it does not recognise the killings as genocide.

And George admits that he had one eye on events in modern-day Turkey and the Middle East as he was shooting the film.

"As we were filming the events of one hundred years ago, we were filming Armenian refugees in the desert, trapped up a mountain, and drowning in the sea," he said.

"The exact same thing was happening on the news right in front of our eyes.

Genocide

"So the film is very contemporary as it's a story of refugees and massacre and genocide which is happening in exactly the same region today."

The Promise was funded by the late Armenian-American businessman and philanthropist, Kirk Kerkorian, but George has denied that the film is propaganda.

"Everything you put on screen has to be fastidiously researched," he previously told the Hollywood Reporter.

"There's a difference between the perception of a story and the veracity of a story."

George has never shied away from tackling difficult subjects on screen.

He wrote three successful films based on events during the troubles: In the Name of the Father, Some Mother's Son and The Boxer.

Then he wrote and directed Hotel Rwanda, set during the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s.

Image copyright PACEMAKER
Image caption Terry George won an Oscar for his 2012 film, The Shore

So why is he drawn to harrowing subjects?

"What I look for are stories of ordinary people who are plunged into extraordinary events, which are often catastrophic," he said.

"But they find the inner strength to survive, and to carry people with them.

"So for me, there's always optimism in the strength of the ordinary person to survive and that's what I look for particularly."

George spoke to the BBC from New York, where he has lived for many years, but he still keeps a close eye on events in Northern Ireland.

"I still have a house there, and go back and forward," he said.

'Spectre of Brexit'

"The Stormont crisis is disappointing and worrying, but I think the bigger spectre looming over politics - north and south - is Brexit.

"What Theresa May calls a frictionless border, I think, is a complete oxymoron.

"I do think eventually that Sinn Féin and the DUP will come to some sort of agreement, but the spectre of Brexit is extremely worrying."

He plans to return to Northern Ireland for his next feature, though, and it is one that will be based on his short film The Shore.

Filmed entirely at George's family cottage at Coney Island near Ardglass, County Down, it won an Oscar in 2012.

"It'll be about exile - about going into exile and come back - and set during the peace process era in Northern Ireland.

"It'll deal with the legacy of the war and how people are overcoming that.

"I hope that'll be my next project so I'll be back on the shores of Killough!"

Related Topics

More on this story