Tristan & Isolde

Tristan & Isolde


Reviewed by: The Exile

Playing fast and loose with legend, executive producers Tony and Ridley Scott bring us Tristan & Isolde, the latest teen-friendly depiction of Tragic Lovers of Yore.

The time is vaguely Arthurian, the place adamantly Celtic (which is to say damp, dirty and war-torn) and the lovers clearly in possession of grooming products centuries ahead of their time. But this is Hollywood, where only Steve Buscemi has permission to retain his natural teeth and then only if he refrains from kissing anyone, so expectations of realism are, of course, futile.

But who cares about realism when we have England's No. 1 knight, Tristan (James Franco), and Ireland's No. 1 princess, Isolde (Sophia Myles), pining for each other across a chasm of ocean, filial duty and more swordplay than the entire oeuvre of Antonio Banderas. The couple meet when Tristan, believed killed in battle, is loaded into a Viking-style funeral barge and washes up at Isolde's feet on the Irish shore. Employing now standard paramedic practice, she strips naked and wraps herself around his soggy form, which turns out to be merely enjoying a poisoned nap. Concealing her identity, Isolde nurses Tristan back to full strength with herbs and more nakedness and soon she's hustling the lovelorn swain back to England before her father, evil King Donnchadh (David O'Hara), can discover their secret and undo all her good doctoring.

Back among his own kin, Tristan is free to mope uselessly while his adoptive father, Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell, relishing the one role this year not already optioned by Jude Law), tries vainly to dissuade England's tribal leaders from killing everything that moves. So when King Donnchadh announces a fighting tournament, with marriage to Isolde as the prize, it seems a perfect opportunity to bring everyone together for some good-natured head banging and end the conflict with Ireland (the outcome of the war with the Picts, Jutes, Saxons, et al has presumably been saved for another movie). After a great deal of blood, grunting and predictable plot development, Isolde is married to Marke, Tristan is suicidal and the Irish are wondering how to pass the time until someone invents Guinness.

Directed with gusto by Kevin Reynolds (one word: Waterworld), Tristan & Isolde is a Dark Ages Romeo And Juliet, with nary a thought in its head beyond sterilised teen desire (though there's some interesting, unexplored subtext once Isolde becomes Tristan's stepmother). Franco looks fabulous, but acts atrociously, mumbling his lines through teeth like piano keys and behaving like a petulant teen whose prom date is steaming up someone else's car. Myles is marginally better, but her assembly-line prettiness never comes close to exciting the camera - or Tristan.

Filming in Ireland and the Czech Republic, Polish cinematographer Artur Reinhart manages to ruin the gorgeous locations with a dependence on sickly green filters, while screenwriter Dean Georgaris provides the kind of dialogue seldom heard outside of high-school theater productions. According to the publicity notes, Ridley Scott has been trying to bring this story to the screen for decades; but after the overrated Gladiator and the disastrous Kingdom Of Heaven, perhaps he needs to get out of the past and back to the future. Alien 5: The Next Generation is just gasping to be born.

Reviewed on: 05 Feb 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:

Jennie Kermode **1/2
Paul Griffiths **

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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A Knight's Tale