Tristan + Isolde

Tiring + Indifferent

Released in 2006, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 29 Apr 2006 by Craig Eastman
Tristan + Isolde image

English History For Dummies?: The Dark Ages. The Romans buggered off and left England in a right old mess. All the counties were fighting amongst each other, so in stepped the now numerically superior Irish and started slapping the English about for a bit of a laugh. It all got a bit out of hand, a few people lost an eye here and there and the name calling all got a bit much. The end. Such is the factual depth of Tristan + Isolde, a film so historically shallow it makes Braveheart look like the result of a ten-year Discovery Channel research and fact-finding mission. Simon Schama this aint.

The titular (emphasis on the first syllable) couple of Tristan (James "The Cheekbone" Franco) and Isolde (Sophia Myles) should technically be sworn enemies, what with the former being the son of an English nobleman slain at the hands of the Irish, and the latter the daughter of the now-deceased Irish Queen. As luck would have it, Tristan is left for dead after an attack on the Irish, paralysed by the poison smeared on a nasty man's sword, and, assuming he's come a cropper, his merry men slap him on a raft and float him out to sea where, you guessed it, he washes up on an Irish beach. Ho ho! Don't you just hate it when that happens? Not only that, but who should be strolling along said beach with her maid at the time? Why, Isolde of course! Her knowledge of poisons, handily set up through some scant exposition prior to this unlikely event, saves the day and before you know it the pair are doing the horizontal tango, both no doubt getting a fair amount of sand in their kecks.

So far so Mills & Boone. Unsurprisingly Tristan has to head home, and Isolde refuses to join him, even though her love is "undying". Or something. However Isolde has not given Tristan her true name or title, and when he returns to Ireland to enter a contest that will potentially win his leader and adoptive father Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell) a new bride, little does he know that bride is actually Isolde. No surprises then when Tristan wins and accidentally ends up marrying off the love of his young life to his old man. Ho ho! Don't you just hate it when that happens? Aaaaaanyway, much scurrying about the castle for sordid meetings in the night, prying eyes among Lord Marke's camp, no end of "moody" looks from Franco and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Tristan + Isolde image

Now, if you do your research beforehand you don't need me to tell you what you're getting into. Don't get me wrong: Tristan + Isolde isn't bad, it's just incredibly average, but then what do you expect from Kevin "Waterworld" Reynolds directing a script idea Ridley Scott passed up nearly thirty years ago, starring a cast of mostly unknowns and Larry Franco who, five years ago was The Next Big Thing and now spends his time playing fourth fiddle to a guy in a spandex spider outfit, a random dayglo villain and some redhead looking wistfully into the middle distance for two hours. Hmmm. Now this might sound incredibly sexist, but still not having figured out the female psyche I might hazard that you ladies out there could potentially enjoy this a whole lot more than I did, and indeed there's nothing wrong with that except the fact you'd have to be sitting in the cinema and not the kitchen to do so. Only kidding. No, really.

Seriously though, While there is little technically tragic about the movie, except perhaps the ridiculously Playskool historical setting, there really is nothing here to ignite interest of any degree. Myles is entirely acceptable, but then so is nearly everyone else, and considering this was presumably an opportunity for Franco to exercise his thesping talents outside of Spidey territory he seems alarmingly happy just to smirk a bit every now and then, look increasingly moody the rest of the time and give the lighting department a bit of a challenge as to how best his cheeks should be illuminated for a couple of hours. The only one approaching empathy is Sewell who as Marke deserves a damn sight more attention than the script affords, given that his emotional turmoil amounts to something considerably more interesting as his wife's infidelity with his son comes to light.

Something of an identity crisis on film, Tristan + Isolde feels more like a romantic drama trapped in an action movie's body than the sweeping saga of forbidden love it would clearly like to be. Maybe if it lost a half hour from the running time it might fare better with the casual multiplex crew to whom it is best suited, but unfortunately it's designs on artistic credit will be wasted on a disappointed sea of faces gradually slipping off to sleep throughout the course of two largely uninteresting hours. Somewhere deep down, for some reason, I really wanted to enjoy this movie, but alas like it's protagonists' union it just wasn't to be. Having said that if you offered me this up for a second viewing against anything from the last six months it'd easily make the top half of the list.

I award this movie 3 out of 5 Yadda Yadda Units.

Kevin Reynolds
Cast list:
Tristan (James Franco)
Isolde (Sophia Myles)
Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell)