Tristan And Isolde

Movie Review by Dan Spiers

Starring: James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell, David Patrick O’Hara

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Romeo and Juliet weren’t the first you know. There were scores of star-crossed lovers before those two. And before them? Countless more. But prior to these there was the terribly tragic Irish legend of Tristan and Isolde.

Directed by Kevin Reynolds, TRISTAN & ISOLDE is set in the Dark ages in an England ruled by the Irish. A terrible lot, they treat the poor English (what a delight it is to be oppressed!) barbaricly. They pillage and they murder. They rape and spread red hair. The English are too busy fighting amongst themselves to do much about it.

One man trying, but clearly failing, is a young English knight, Tristan (James Franco), who is slain in battle and pronounced dead. But he is not! Put to sea on a raft he manages to bob across to Ireland. He is rescued by an Irish princess, Isolde (Sophia Myles), who hides his broken body and nurses him back to health.

Romance begins to bubble and squeak, but before Isolde reveals her true identity Tristan is discovered and flees. Upon his return to England there is much rejoicing, but Tristan discovers that the Irish King has offered his daughter as prize in a gladiatorial contest. Suspecting he may see Isolde, Tristan volunteers his services as champion.

Tristan triumphs, but is devastated to learn that the woman he has won for the Lord of his tribe is Isolde. Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell) is a fine man, in fact, he is beyond reproach. He is a man that can rule England, and so with King and country in mind, Tristan decides to sacrifice his love.

But the problem is Isolde is a cracker. Woohaa! And Tristan is a dashing chap. No corset or pair of pants are big enough to suppress this amount of mutual affection and tragedy beckons.

But if there were a tragedy you could become involved with, then this would be it. It’s just so much fun! There are swords, flesh, horses and horse-play. The doomed couple get moonlit liaisons and rumpy-pumpy in cupboards. And there is an almost complete absence of dirt, which, for the Dark Ages, is remarkable.

What enables the movie to remain amusing whilst retaining its dramatic tension is the pantomime like villainy on display. Who on earth offers his daughter as a prize? King Donnchadh (David Patrick O’Hara) is a tyrant of the highest calibre, performed with relish by O’Hara. Mark Strong, at the centre of court intrigue, is equally revolting as Wictred. Despicableness dribbles from his every pore.

But at the heart of it all, forgive me, lies the heart. Ah, how love bucks, yes, bucks and rocks and rolls. What a many splendid thing it is. Franco and Myles manage to take us on this journey and convince us of their doomed love. Because of this and allied with action sequences directed and performed with brio, TRISTAN & ISOLDE is thoroughly enjoyable. Whilst it may not be the most groundbreaking of films it is entertaining throughout. At the very least it makes the English look good and that in itself is cause for celebration.

4 out of 6 stars

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