Review: Irena’s Vow


Sometimes people find themselves in desperate situations. Situations where they must make life and death decisions.

Such was the situation Irena Gut (Sophie Nelisse – “Close”) faced in Lublin, Poland, during the German invasion in 1939. Training as a nurse, the Germans forced her into factory work and then into domestic work for German officers.

While shopping for vegetables for her German masters, she witnessed the horrendously casual murder of a Jewish woman and her tiny baby at the hands of an SS officer. She vowed then to do everything she could to save others from such murder at the hands of the invaders.

Irena’s domestic skill pleased her master, Major Rugmer (Dougray Scott – “La Cha Cha”), who among other duties placed her in charge of 11 Jews who were assigned laundry and tailoring duties for the officers. When the opportunity came, she smuggled the Jews into the very basement of a villa confiscated for the Major, and there kept them safe through one harrowing ordeal or another. Amazingly, this is based on a true story involving the real Irena Gut during the occupation of Poland.

The film was written by Dan Gordon, based on his play of the same name, which ran on Broadway in 2009. Gordon’s translation from play to cinema is magical, unlike so many which maintain their “stagey” origin.

Director Louise Archembault (“One Summer”) has done an excellent job of drawing realistic performances from her talented cast. Films like these usually depict Germans as two dimensional monsters eager to display their lack of humanity. Here, however, while the SS Commandant Rokita (Maciej Nawrocki – “Other People”) is shown that way, there is a bit more on display; singularly with the character of Colonel Rugmer. His affection for Irena is portrayed as genuine, even if it is not reciprocated.

Also deserving of mention for his grandfatherly performance as the Polish innkeeper turned butler is Andrzej Sewerlyn (“Kos”). He has lived long enough to know exactly how you survive under conditions like the Nazi occupation.

This is a superb film that, while not having the same aura of mystery that “The Zone of Interest” possesses, nonetheless has important elements of the human condition to convey. You will enjoy every minute of its two hour running time.

Note: Look to the end for a fascinating summary of what happened to the real people depicted in the film after the war ended. There is a surprise or two … or three.


Director: Louise Archembault
Writer: Dan Gordon
Producers: Berry Meyerowitz, Beata Pisula, Tim Ringuette, Jeff Sackman, Nicholas Tabarrok
Cinematographer: Paul Sarossy
Editor: Arthur Tarnowski
Music: Maxime Navert, Alexandra Steliski

Irena: Sophie Nelisse
Rugmer: Dougray Scott
Schultz (butler): Andrzej Sewerlyn
Rokita: Maciej Nawrocki
SS Officer: Robert Koszucki

Runtime: Two hours, one minute
Availability: In theaters beginning April 15, 2024

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