The Ottoman Lieutenant

The Ottoman Lieutenant (Turkish: Osmanlı Subayı) is a Turkish-American romantic war drama film directed by Joseph Ruben and written by Jeff Stockwell. The film stars Michiel Huisman, Hera Hilmar, Josh Hartnett and Ben Kingsley. The film was released widely on March 10, 2017.[2]

The Ottoman Lieutenant
Directed byJoseph Ruben
Produced byStephen Joel Brown
Written byJeff Stockwell
StarringMichiel Huisman
Hera Hilmar
Josh Hartnett
Ben Kingsley
Music byGeoff Zanelli
CinematographyDaniel Aranyó
Edited byNick Moore
Dennis Virkler
Y Production
Eastern Sunrise Films
Distributed byPaladin
Release date
  • March 10, 2017 (2017-03-10)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$240,978[1]

The film was released around the period of the film The Promise, a film depicting the Armenian genocide.[3] The perceived similarities between the films resulted in accusations that The Ottoman Lieutenant existed to deny the Armenian genocide.[3][4]


The Ottoman Lieutenant is a love story between an idealistic American nurse (Hera Hilmar) and a Turkish officer (Michiel Huisman) during World War I. Lillie first travels to Istanbul (called as such in-movie, though at the time in real life, in English the entire city was known as Constantinople while the central portion was known in that language as "Stamboul",[5] see Names of Istanbul), before being escorted by Ismail to the region around Van.



The motion picture commenced principal photography in Prague, Czech Republic in April 2015, and also filmed in Cappadocia and Istanbul, Turkey and completed filming in July 2015. The film's music score was composed by Geoff Zanelli.[6] A 300,000-square-foot (28,000 m2) parcel of land at Barrandov Studios in Prague was where most filming took place.[7] The Ottoman Lieutenant entered into production before The Promise, which depicts the Armenian genocide as a deliberate campaign from the Ottoman Empire government, did; The Ottoman Lieutenant depicts the deaths of Armenians in the manner that the Turkish government stated that happened, in that it was unorganized killings instead of a planned genocide.[4]

Cara Buckley of The New York Times stated that "several people familiar with" the production indicated that the producers in Turkey, unbeknownst to the director, had arranged for the final cut, and due to the post-production removal of dialog related to the Armenian genocide, "Several people who worked on the project felt the final version butchered the film artistically, and smacked of denialism".[3] Director Joseph Ruben, unsatisfied with post-production changes, did not promote the film, but was contractually required to keep his name in the credits.[3]

The production team of The Ottoman Lieutenant asked Project Save, an archive of Armenian photographs based in the United States, for permission to use some of the photographs. Project Save researched the producers and declined to license the photographs because the producers of the film received financial support from Turkey.[4]

Reception and release

The film's release date changed as the release date of The Promise changed, and internet users stated that this was a campaign from the producers of The Ottoman Lieutenant to influence Americans. Terry George, who directed The Promise, stated that the publicity material for the films were similar; there were accusations, from George and The Promise producer Eric Esrailian, that the film was created solely to counter The Promise.[4]

Its Turkish release was scheduled for May 19, 2017.[8] By May 30 of that year, 41,578 people in Turkey viewed the film, a figure that lead Riada Asimovic Aykol of Al Monitor to conclude that The Ottoman Lieutenant had "not done well".[9] The Turkish version of the film added censorship against the kissing scene.[9]

Los Angeles was scheduled as the North American premiere site.[7] In the United States the film's revenue was fewer than $250,000 by April 2017.[10] Alex Ritman and Mia Galuppo of The Hollywood Reporter stated that The Ottoman Lieutenant "didn’t have much impact at the box office" stateside.[4]

Reviews and analysis

The Ottoman Lieutenant was largely panned by film critics. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 17%, with an average rating of 3.6/10.[11]

Especially in the West,[9] several critics criticized the film for perpetuating the denial of the Armenian Genocide. In his review for Variety Dennis Harvey writes, "[In] this primarily Turkish-funded production, the historical, political, ethnic and other intricacies — not to mention that perpetual elephant in the room, the Armenian Genocide, which commenced in 1915 — are glossed over in favor of a generalized 'Whattaya gonna do… war is bad' aura that implies conscience without actually saying anything." [12]

In his review of the film for Slant Magazine, Keith Watson writes, "More conspicuous than The Ottoman Lieutenant's rote melodrama is the way the film elides the concurrent genocide of ethnic Armenians by Ottoman forces, a historical reality which the Turkish government continues to deny to this day.",[13] while critic Roger Moore called The Ottoman Lieutenant "a botched love-triangle romance set against a revisionist account of the Turkish Armenian Genocide." [14]

On March 7, 2017, the Armenian Youth Federation Western United States issued a statement, urging the public not to watch the film in theaters or support it in any way. “[We] do feel it is important for our community to be aware of the fact that genocide denial is present and still a major issue, even outside of the Republic of Turkey,” read a part of the statement.[15] The American Hellenic Council accused the film of being made as a rival of The Promise and argued for boycotting The Ottoman Lieutenant.[3]

Michael Daly of The Daily Beast contrasted the film with The Promise, which he said does express the truth about the Armenian genocide.[10] Buckley wrote that, due to similarities of some plot points, The Ottoman Lieutenant had "uncanny parallels" to The Promise.[3]

The film's reception in Turkey varied, with some being critical, and those in favor of the Turkish government praising the film. Turkish film critic Atilla Dorsay gave approval to the film overall, stating that it mainly reflected the Turkish point of view while being "impartial and honest, without maligning any particular camp and leaving little room for objection", but criticized a scene lacking emphasis of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Aghtamar, stating that it could have shown Christian audiences the Ottomans' relative religious tolerance.[9]

See also

Other productions by Eastern Sunrise Films:


  1. "The Ottoman Lieutenant (2017)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  2. Busch, Anita (2016-09-09). "'The Ottoman Lieutenant' To Be Released For Oscar-Qualifying Run". Deadline. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  3. Buckley, Cara (2017-04-20). "Battle Over Two Films Represents Turkey's Quest to Control a Narrative". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019-05-13. But Turkey has insisted that many people, both Turkish and Armenian, carried out — and bore the brunt of — wartime horrors, and that no concerted extermination effort existed. [...] “The Ottoman Lieutenant” [...] reinforces that debunked Turkish narrative, detractors say.
  4. Ritman, Alex; Mia Galuppo (2017-04-21). "'The Promise' vs. 'The Ottoman Lieutenant': Two Movies Battle Over the Armenian Genocide". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2019-05-15.
  5. Edhem, Eldem. "Istanbul." In: Ágoston, Gábor and Bruce Alan Masters. Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire. Infobase Publishing, May 21, 2010. ISBN 1438110251, 9781438110257. Start and CITED: p. 286. "Originally, the name Istanbul referred only to[...]in the 18th century." and "For the duration of Ottoman rule, western sources continued to refer to the city as Constantinople, reserving the name Stamboul for the walled city." and "Today the use of the name[...]is often deemed politically incorrect[...]by most Turks." // (entry ends, with author named, on p. 290)
  6. "Geoff Zanelli to Score Joseph Ruben's 'Mountains and Stones'". Film Music Reporter. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  7. "'Ottoman Lieutenant' ready for screen". Hurriyet Daily News. 2016-09-08. Retrieved 2019-05-15.
  8. "'The Ottoman Lieutenant' to hit Turkish theaters May 19". Daily Sabah. 2017-04-16. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  9. Akyol, Riada Asimovic (2017-05-30). "'The Ottoman Lieutenant' loses box office war". Al Monitor. Retrieved 2019-05-15.
  10. "Hollywood's New Armenian Genocide Denial Epic". The Daily Beast. 2017-04-15. Retrieved 2019-05-13.
  11. "The Ottoman Lieutenant (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. October 15, 2019.
  12. Harvey, Dennis (March 2, 2017). "Film Review: 'The Ottoman Lieutenant'". Variety.
  13. Watson, Keith (March 7, 2017). "The Ottoman Lieutenant". Slant.
  14. Moore, Roger (March 8, 2017). "Movie Review: Turkish history gets a quick anti-genocidal scrub in "The Ottoman Lieutenant"". Rogers Movie Nation.
  15. Western U.S., Armenian Youth Federation (March 9, 2017). "AYF Western United States Issues Statement on the Film 'The Ottoman Lieutenant'". The Armenian Weekly.

Further reading

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