Tristan & Isolde

Tristan & Isolde


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

With Ridley and Tony Scott as executive producers and Kevin Reynolds as director, Tristan & Isolde comes from established Hollywood stock. Unfortunately, what might sound like a tempting feast on paper just can't deliver the goods in the castle's kitchen.

Perhaps, it's because each has developed his own filmic style, so rather than Tristan & Isolde finding its own identity it flounders about through a lack of individuality. The presence of everyone's past efforts hangs over the movie, making unfavourable comparisons and claims of derivative material all too easy.

The Roman Empire has fallen and now the brutal Irish, led by King Donnchadh (Patrick O'Hara), rule the English warlords of the land. Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell), however, is seeking to unite the English tribes to form one nation against the tyranny from across the sea. Tristan, his committed right hand man, is his strongest and most loyal supporter.

Tristan's worth is uniformly apparent for all when he leads a retaliatory strike on the marauding Irish, only to be wounded in battle and thought dead. In the first of several huge leaps of credibility, his body comes to the shores of Ireland, where he is nursed in secret by the vibrant Irish beauty, Isolde. There's tender caring, poetry by firelight, clandestine meetings and the stirring sea aplenty so, of course, swooning love ensues. Alas, Tristan is forced to flee home to England, leaving both heartbroken. Nevertheless, he's soon back, fighting as Marke's champion in a gladiatorial contest held by Donnchadh. The prize: the king's daughter's hand in marriage to unite the two countries in peaceful matrimony.

With ponderous inevitability Tristan is victorious and wins the bride for Lord Marke, only then to discover that Donnchadh's daughter is none other than Isolde. Being as Lord Marke is actually a stand up leader (at least compared to Donnchadh) and pretty decent bloke all round, the stage is set for a conventionally tragic menage a trois.

Conventional and formulaic. The very generous might suggest that this is as it should be, with such an old story, setting the mould for romantic epics. The less foolishly nostalgic will realise that it's actually because there is no originality here, only a strong feeling that Reynolds and his producers emailed in their contributions, confident that the world will be gripped by such a simple story. Cobble together average scenes from Gladiator, Kingdom Of Heaven and Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and you have this movie's look and action. Throw in less invention than Waterworld and performances only marginally better than in Domino and you have its style and grace.

Sophie Myles, as Isolde, tries earnestly to look torn and heartbroken and is certainly a beguiling enough beauty, but her role is too simplistically drawn (as is everyone's) for her to find any depth. Sewell is solid to begin with, but his frustration becomes clear in the last acts, as if he wished he were back in the 21st century. James Franco, as Tristan, is the most disappointing. Not quite of the same stature when compared to Sewell, he never sufficiently convinces as the youth-cum-warrior type and is just plain jousted off screen by memories of Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale. He does little apart from clash swords with unconvincing conviction and strike a smouldering pout, continuously. When he's falling in love, is heartbroken, is torn, is happy, sad, whatever, he pouts it all. Like an Action Man, he's got the chiselled looks, but there's no indication of anything inside. As the romantic lead he woefully lets the side down.

The love story fails to ignite and not just because of the damp wooden performances. Its plotting is far too simplistic and ultimately everything feels more contrived than even a creditable suspension of belief will allow. With Dean Georgaris' screenplay set up to serve the romance and little else of substance, it comes across as more practical and clunky than anything else. Reynolds crowns it with his ability to find epic scenery and then uniformly show it in a decidedly flat and lacklustre manner, which neatly sums up the film.

On the whole, a disappointing attempt at an old-fashioned romance that provides little entertainment, or escapism.

Reviewed on: 21 Apr 2006
Share this with others on...
Tristan & Isolde packshot
A Dark Ages take on Romeo and Juliet, with naked nursing and energetic swordplay
Amazon link

Read more Tristan & Isolde reviews:

Jennie Kermode **1/2
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


Search database:

If you like this, try:

A Knight's Tale