Tristan & Isolde (2006)
Who would have thought it? This is a historical romance set in a time period virtually ignored by Hollywood, based on a 12th century narrative. And it's actually good! I wasn't expecting the themes here to be dealt with in such a mature fashion, but it goes to show that films like this can still be made when the right intentions are behind them. The director of this one is Kevin Reynolds, who made the much-maligned ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, but thankfully Bryan Adams is nowhere in sight this time around. The lack of modern knowledge about this period in history means that there's less scope for historical anachronisms, but they're still here! I can overlook the presence of a Norman-style motte and bailey castle, but to have one character quoting a John Donne poem (written some thousand years after this film is set) is inexcusable. Watch out for the fork at a dinner table as well.Otherwise, the backdrop looks and feels good, and I was pleased to find that there's action and battle here, including a rousing climax and a tournament that recalls that of GLADIATOR (Ridley Scott served as producer on this). The central love story is slightly mishandled, because we end up losing sympathy for the lead characters, particularly Isolde, whose frequent errors of judgement contribute to the tragic storyline. I didn't particularly care for the casting of Sophie Myles either – her Irish accent is all over the place. Imported American lead James Franco is better as the tough hero, but, as with Costner, there's something that screams 'Hollywood' about him, taking away from his authenticity. The good news is that we get Rufus Sewell playing the third spoke of the love triangle, and he's simply superb as the sympathetic king. Sewell usually gets typecast as the bad guy in Hollywood films, but he plays a fully rounded figure here, and he's the best thing in the film, bringing all his scenes to life. I would say that I wish he'd played the hero, but I think his character is actually much more interesting, so I'm not complaining.So, as with ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, despite the anachronisms, this is a thoroughly entertaining movie and one I wouldn't mind watching again. Stunning location photography, romance, battle, conflict, a fine supporting cast and plenty of twists – that's what I want from my historical films!
Tristan (James Franco) was orphaned as a boy. Irish warriors interrupted a dinner in Cornwall, which his parents were attending, and killed many, including the lad's father and mother. Brave Uncle Marke (Rufus Sewell) saved his nephew, losing a hand in the process. Now, Tristan is grown and a fine swordsman himself. Yet, the Irish and the clans of Britain are still at odds. In another skirmish, after a valiant fight, Tristan is wounded by a poisonous sword. Thinking him dead, his grieving uncle and other men put him in a boat and release him to the waves. This is the burial ceremony of the times. But, by a twist of fate, the boat crosses the sea and lands in Ireland. Spying the vessel is beautiful Isolde (Sophia Miles), the daughter of the king. Realizing the man is alive but gravely, sickened, this beautiful princess and her lady in waiting nurse Tristan back to health in a secret cove. Before long, Isolde is deeply in love with her patient, although she gives him a false name for herself, and he is in love with her. But, danger lurks, due to his heritage. Just as the Irish are about to discover the secrets, Isolde releases Tristan in his boat, telling him their love can never be. Both are shattered inside. When Tristan arrives back in Cornwall, his uncle is overjoyed. Before long, the Irish king offers his daughter to the knight who can defeat all others in a tournament. Tristan vows to win a wife for the never married Marke. Sure enough, Tristan wins the contest. But, horror indeed when the lady's veil is lifted and it is his dear love. No matter, Isolde must marry Marke, for all parties are bound by honor. Yet, can Tristan really forget his love for Isolde or can she truly love her husband? In addition, if they give into their past feelings, what will be the consequences in the near future? This timeless tale of a love triangle is a legend that came before King Arthur himself. One could probably say it influenced the later story. As such, it is just as beautiful and tragic. Franco, Sewell, and Miles are a most lovely and talented threesome while the lesser actors are equally well chosen. The sets and costumes, which depict a time long ago, are wonderful to behold while the script and direction fulfill the story's telling well. Yes, there is some violence but it is muted; even so, those who shiver at sword fights and such should be advised accordingly. Nevertheless, this is a stellar two hours of entertainment.
Originally published on Jan. 11, 2006:Tristan + Isolde = Questionable ChemistryThis work, based on the old Celtic Dark Age story, takes place in Briton shortly after the fall of the Roman Empire (about 480 AD), and concerns the two title characters, English warrior Tristan (James Franco, "Spiderman," "The Great Raid") and Irish princess Isolde (Sophia Myles, "Underworld"), who somehow meet, make love and almost bring down two kingdoms. As such, this epic historical tale, directed by Kevin Reynolds ("Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves") comes in above "King Arthur" and "Alexander," but below "Kingdom Of Heaven, and way below "Braveheart." It should have been more interesting and exciting than it turned out.Notably missing, apart from any sort of chemistry between the two leads (yeah, there's some soft core lovemaking, but they don't really mean it), is the Richard Wagner music so often associated with this opera; and while I understand the omission, it still would have been nice as an incidental score.In the absence of such, though, we're left with a lot of violent battles (in the Dark Ages people couldn't just get along it seemed), as the underdog Brits were oppressed by the brutal Irish (now there's a switch on modern sensibilities). Led by King Donnchadh (David Patrick O'Hara, "Braveheart"), the bloody Irish are making all sorts of trouble for the peace-loving English, burning, raping, ravaging, pillaging and attempting to prevent a loose federation of barons from uniting and forming the Great Britain we know of today.Oh, if only they had succeeded ...Opposing this, ala William Wallace, is Tristan, raised by the powerful knight, Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell, "The Legend Of Zorro"), and his country's great champion, but he is killed in a skirmish, put in a funeral boat and set adrift. Of course, since half of the movie is named after him, you know he isn't really dead, just poisoned and paralyzed. He drifts across the Irish Sea and somehow beaches himself right where Isolde is taking a stroll with her cluck-clucking maid.Against her better judgment (and because she's an amateur apothecary), she brings him to her beach house and heals him with herbs and oils. She reads to him and soon a tepid love develops. Of course, they consummate this, but Tristan's boat is discovered by the bad guys and he has to take a powder back to England.Meanwhile, Donnchadh has arranged for a tournament to be held between the British tribes in hopes of dividing them even further. When Tristan overcomes the Irish ruler's handpicked winner, however, the princess becomes betrothed to Marke (unbeknownst to either lead character). Thus, even after his best friend and father-figure is married to Isolde, Tristan and her continue to carry on a torrid affair (that seemingly everyone knows about - except Marke).Donnchadh uses this split to enlist the aid of the other barons to attack Marke's castle, which initiates one final conflict complete with a siege, explosions, a rain of fire and even a beheading (proving that even in a heavy, dark drama there are some light, fun moments).The battle scenes were intriguing enough, and the special effects were okay, but with Tony Scott ("Thelma & Louise," "Gladiator," "Black Hawk Down") as Executive Producer, I expected a little more from this classic story - a coherent and plausible plot would have been nice.
Tristan & Isolde is a romantic drama film based on the medieval romantic legend of Tristan and Isolde. It stars James Franco and Sophia Myles in the title role together with Rufus Sewell. The movie was produced by Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, and directed by Kevin Reynolds.After the collapse of the Roman Empire, King Donnchadh of Ireland has become the de facto ruler of England, but one of his underlings, Lord Marke, dreams of uniting British forces with an eye toward self-rule. One of Marke's most valuable allies is Tristan,his protégé, who has become a brave warrior since he was rescued by the lord after his parents were murdered by Irish forces during a battle. While Marke and Tristan dream of banishing Ireland's presence in England, Tristan has a secret he's been hiding from Marke after suffering serious wounds during a hard-fought battle, he was rescued and nursed back to health by Isolde ,King Donnchadh's daughter,and the two fell deeply in love. But the couple were separated after Tristan returned to England, and when Donnchadh attempts to quell the British uprising by staging a tournament among the nation's greatest warriors, an extreme and rather personal surprise is in store for Tristan.The movie was boring.No question about it.Despite of the great visual style and a haunting original music score composed by Anne Dudley,the movie does not achieve the romanticism that it aims for.Also,Franco and Myles does not elevate the drama to a compelling and powerful movie.They manage to make Tristan and Isolde's love story a standard romance found in most dramatic films.But nevertheless,it manages to entertain inspite of the fact that its goal is to be more than just a guilty pleasure film. In other words,it has less to offer especially for movies that features romantic piece periods.