Tristan + Isolde (2006) / Action-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and sexuality
Running Time: 125 min.
Cast: James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell, David O'Hara, Henry Cavill, JB Blanc, Jamie King, Dexter Fletcher
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Screenplay: Dean Georgaris
Although marketed as a romance, and to a certain extent, it is, Tristan & Isolde falls more along the lines of an epic film with strong romantic elements rather than the next "Romeo and Juliet" the marketers would have you embrace it as. The characters have influenced those of Arthurian legend, although some very liberal changes have been made for dramatic purposes, and like the 2004 version of King Arthur, this film plays it straight, without any magic or mysticism involved. Kevin Reynolds shows why he is one of the better fantasy epic film directors yet again, having crafted memorable period action films like The Count of Monte Cristo and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Those that have these movies in their DVD collection will probably add Tristan & Isolde right next to them on the shelf.
Set in early 7th Century England and Ireland, James Franco (The Great Raid, Spider-Man 2) stars as Tristan, one of England's great soldiers and loyal friend to Lord Marke (Sewell, The Legend of Zorro), the good and kindly leader of the Celts. Marke has a dream of uniting all of the warring factions of England into one unified group, and while at war with their bitter enemy, Ireland, Tristan is injured to the point of being proclaimed dead by his countrymen. They give him the proper burial at sea, but he miraculously survives, washing ashore on the beaches of Ireland, where Isolde (Myles, Thunderbirds), daughter to the king of Ireland, finds him and cares for him. She is immediately smitten by the handsome Isolde, but being a Celtic warrior, she doesn't let on to her true identity, until the day that Tristan, fighting in a contest to unite England without bloodshed, wins the daughter of the Irish king to be betrothed to Lord Marke, to make the union permanent. Neither Tristan nor Isolde want her to be wedded to another man, and seeing her love someone else creates great feelings of pain and jealousy within Tristan, reducing his ability to function if he cannot see his true love.
There is more to the story, but you get the idea. Tristan and Isolde is mostly about Tristan's allegiance. He is loyal to the death for Marke, the man that once saved his life, and also to Isolde, the woman that did the same. He loves both greatly, albeit in very different ways, and the conflict that arises in potentially harming one to please the other creates the film's central dilemma. It's very well-developed, never really making any one of them out to be the villain, and posing no easy solutions to the problem at hand. Eventually, the love triangle is exploited as a weakness for Marke's cause, which his enemies seize upon with great relish, until it all comes to a violent and quite bloody head for the fate of the country.
With a solid cast, a fine score, superb cinematography and sumptuous locale work, Tristan & Isolde is a solid epic romance that should go down well for viewers, both male and female, that like a good tale of valor and love with dire consequences, both romantic and tragic in scope.
©2006 Vince Leo