June 12, 2011

A late take on Kosminsky's The Promise

A mini series titled, The Promise, by Peter Kosminsky, aired on Channel 4 back in February this year.  I didn't hear or notice that much about it at the time but a Palestinian friend of mine mentioned that he liked it, I was asked on a blog whether I would condemn its anti-Israel bias (because I had mentioned a general mainstream media bias in favour of Israel) and I have seen some real anger expressed about it on pro-Israel blogs.  Eventually, over about two weeks, I watched the four parter on Channel 4 oD.

The story jumps forward and back through the main characters, a Palestine based British soldier called Len and his granddaughter, Erin, who uses his diary of his time in Palestine to explore the story surrounding the establishment of the State of Israel and to fulfill her grandfather's promise to a Palestinian chap he had befriended back then.

Well, it seems to be very well made. It's certainly up there with Dallas and Friends. The plot reminded me a bit of Zelig or Forrest Gump.  It relies heavily, almost entirely, on the most amazing coincidences.

The story begins with Erin considering going to Israel with her friend, a young Anglo-Israeli woman together with old Len suffering some hospitalising condition. It jumps back to Len being involved in and diarising the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. Current TV drama is interwoven skilfully with old newsreel much like Zelig, in fairness, without the humour.  Au contraire, the footage of the dead in Belsen is chilling and provides the backdrop for Len writing of why Britain had gone to war. Then it jumps forward to Erin in Israel with her friend and the friend's parents who are clearly very wealthy.

Anyway, the plot takes Len from Belsen to Palestine.  If I hadn't seen the protests from zionist quarters and not knowing anything of Kosminsky's sympathies, I would have assumed the jump from Belsen to Palestine to be part of yet another zionist propaganda show.  Can't they satisfying themselves with news and documentary?  Well, it wasn't like that.  Poor old Len was very conflicted about the whole thing.

He had a liberal non-Sabra Jewish girlfriend.  She turned out to be an Irgunist. His unit also had an Arab chai wallah who Len befriends.

The coincidences come in thick and fast as Len gets caught up in everything everyone who follows Palestine knows about.  He is at the King David Hotel when it gets blown up.  He gets captured with the two British soldiers hanged by the Irgun.  He is at Deir Yassin when the Irgun (and the unmentioned rest) slaughter most of the villagers.  His, by then, ex-girlfriend is among the slaughterers.  She still loves Len.  Not sure if it's mutual.

Erin too gets caught up in a few things that those of us who follow what goes on know about.  She's there when settler kids attack schoolgirls in Hebron.  She remonstrates with Israeli soldiers for not intervening. She meets a Palestinian woman whose family protected Jews during the 1929 Hebron massacre.  She even manages a Rachel Corrie moment when an Israeli bulldozer comes to flatten the home of a suicide bomber's family in Gaza.

I can't really apologise for spoiling the plot because the past historical (if unfinished) side is so well known.  The story doesn't have that much in the way of nuance or intricacy.  It's actually a bit in yer face but it is very well made as far as I can tell. And it is good that someone troubled to dramatise some real historical and current issues in Palestine for a mass audience.  I read somewhere that all the portrayals of Jews are negative. That's not true.  Zionism is put under a spotlight (not a microscope) but zionism isn't the Jews and remember the programme practically starts in Bergen-Belsen.  All in all it's an entertaining tale but I can well see why Israel advocates are chalking this down as one of their failures.

So if you have some spare moments you might want to read this Guardian preview.  Or if you have a few hours you can watch the programme.

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