Tristan & Isolde

Tristan & Isolde


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The tale of Tristan & Isolde, which has graced our screens in more than a dozen different forms, is one of the world's most celebrated love stories. Set in a time of conflict between prosperous Ireland and the squabbling tribes of what would one day be Britain, it tells of a young soldier washed ashore on an Irish beach and cared for by a beautiful woman who never tells him her true name.

Later, as the King of Ireland's daughter, she is married to Tristan's adoptive father and lord, and he finds himself torn between love and loyalty, a situation which his enemies are ready to exploit. Passionate and tragic, this is a story which has echoed down the ages. What is remarkable about this version is that it scarcely makes you feel anything at all.

The name Kevin Reynolds ought to be a warning. This is a man with Waterworld and Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves to his credit, if credit is the right word. Echoes of the latter resound here, with the same jarringly Arcadian landscapes, poor handling of actors and a character uncannily similar to Alan Rickman's dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham.

Like his executive producer Tony Scott, Reynolds relies heavily on soft focus and has a tendency to pull away before any given scene has the chance to develop real emotional intensity. This is particularly problematic when it comes to the sex scenes. The story could easily have been told without sex. Instead, the demure way it is presented makes it seem so boring that it's hard to see why anyone would get emotional about it. After a while, yet another image of Isolde's head and shoulders, as she lies on her back, becomes a cue for laughter. This is sorely needed to distract viewers from looking at their watches and wondering if they ought to have brought books to read.

With a stronger director, it's possible that these earnest young actors might have achieved something. As it is, there's precious little chemistry between them. Sophia Myles works hard with what she's given, but James Franco's only attempt at expression is an occasional furrowing of eyebrows. Fortunately, the supporting cast is much better, with Rufus Sewell particularly impressive as Lord Marke in the few scenes which are genuinely touching. Mark Strong has fun in his hammy pantomime villain role and Henry Cavill does well with what is ultimately the most interesting role, that of the nephew who is consistently overlooked.

Though it struggles with the romance, the action scenes are passable, a few of them actually exciting. What really saves the film from disaster, however, is Artur Reinhart's stunning cinematography, which draws heavily on the work of John Boorman and in places evokes that magical quality which all legends need.

This version of Tristan & Isolde was originally a Ridley Scott project (he remains as an executive producer) and it would have been interesting to see what he could have done with it. The style of the battle scenes is reminiscent of his work in Gladiator, though never quite as tight. Overall, this comes across as a movie which has been compromised to death. It may be big, it may be pretty, but it lacks the essential quality of the epic - a voice of its own.

Reviewed on: 21 Apr 2006
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A Dark Ages take on Romeo and Juliet, with naked nursing and energetic swordplay
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Read more Tristan & Isolde reviews:

Paul Griffiths **
The Exile *1/2

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Writer: Dean Georgaris

Starring: James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell, David O'Hara, Henry Cavill, J B Blanc, Jamie King, Leo Gregory, Richard Dillane, Wolfgang Muller

Year: 2006

Runtime: 125 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Germany, UK, USA


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