TRISTAN AND ISOLDE
With the Romans gone, England of the Middle Ages is a disunited land of warring tribes, which suits the brutish Irish King Donnchadh (David O'Hara). Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell) tries to unite the tribes, with the help of his great knight, Tristan (James Franco). But Tristan, Marke's adopted son, has fallen in love with the Irish Princess, Isolde (Sophia Myles), who had hidden her true identity as Donnchadh's daughter from Tristan; now she is given to Marke as his wife by a scheming Donnchadh. The star crossed lovers of Celtic mythology are kept apart by their respective loyalties, despite their passionate need for each other. When the truth emerges, it threatens kingdoms - as well as their lives.
Review by Louise Keller:
Boasting all the ingredients for a classic, epic tale - forbidden love, power struggles and battles between rival countries - Tristan and Isolde is a handsome production with many superb elements, yet it lacks warmth and conviction. Director Kevin Reynolds tells the story cinematically, using foreboding stone castles and dramatic Irish coastline to maximum effect. But the central love story feels misplaced with modern-day sensibilities and James Franco's sullen Tristan looks more like a Calvin Klein underwear model than a warrior whose heart is being torn apart by the conflict between love and loyalty to his king and surrogate father.
Additionally in this Romeo and Juliet story, I empathised more with Rufus Sewell's tough-in-battle, but insecure-in-love King, than with Tristan. I suspect the filmmakers intended otherwise. But Sophia Myles is loveliness personified as Isolde, who like Camelot's Guinevere, struggles with her passions and ideals.
The harsh battle scenes match the tone of the dark production design and the skies seem eternally grey. Perhaps Anne Dudley's soulful orchestral score was meant to match these elements, but the music plays more like a dirge than an emotional accompaniment.
It's hard to fault the film for production excellence or its attention to detail, but emotionally, Tristan and Isolde is disappointing. How can we expect to have our hearts broken, when the characters fail to convince?
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The great romantic myth of Celtic origins about star crossed lovers whose love is blighted by a single secret is reminiscent of the tragedy that befalls Romeo & Juliet at the end of their story. In this case, Isolde (Sophia Myles) hides her true identity from Tristan (James Franco) for good reason; it's safer for them both that he doesn't know she's the Irish King's daughter, as she tends him back to health after Tristan is washed ashore in Ireland on what was to have been his funeral pyre. It's in these early scenes that the film first falls foul of its sweeping intentions, leaving too many questions in the wake of its beautiful cinematography.
Isolde's decision will have devastating consequences on their relationship. The screenplay takes great pains to paint the lovers as noble, loyal characters - but for their infidelity to Marke (Rufus Sewell), who is Isolde's husband and Tristan's mentor, surrogate father and King. Marke, too, is painted as a decent, noble man who wants unification for England, not for his own aggrandisement but for the genuine peace that such strength would deliver in their conflicted relations with the Irish across the sea.
Set against the warring background of the two islands, this misadventure of the lovers takes on added weight as the consequences of discovery are nothing less than the possible loss of a kingdom.
Kevin Reynolds tells the sometimes complicated story well enough, but there is a dissonant tone to the film, despite its eagerly Medieval production design, which mitigates against it, like contemporary expressions in dialogue (eg 'maximum force') and other details. Also, there is little in James Franco's characterisation to endear us to him, or to make him three dimensional. Sophia Myles has to battle alone for emotional pull, and Rufus Sewell holds up well as Lorde Marke, against the wicked warlords who betray him - and Tristan.
Rustic and lusty, Tristan and Isolde looks great but still feels less than real, as if the cinematic exaggerations actually diminish the central story.
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TRISTAN AND ISOLDE (M)
CAST: James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell, David O'Hara, Henry Cavill, Mark Strong, Bronagh Gallagher, Ronan Vibert, JB Blanc, Graham Mullins, Leo Gregory, Dexter Fletcher, Richard Dillane, Hans Martin-Stier, Thomas Morris, Jamie King, Wolfgang Muller
PRODUCER: Moshe Diamant,, Lise Ellzey, Giannina Facio, Elie Samaha
DIRECTOR: Kevin Reynolds
SCRIPT: Dean Georgaris
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Artur Reinhart
EDITOR: Peter Boyle
MUSIC: Anne Dudley
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Geraghty
RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 16, 2006
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