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Tristan + Isolde

Tristan & Isolde strives to be the good old-fashioned medieval kind of romance that stirs the soul. But due to the somewhat lackluster performances from the doomed young lovers, the film doesn't quite hit the mark.


In the beginning of the Dark Ages, the warlords of England are brutally kept in line by the Irish King Donnchadh (David O'Hara). Tristan (James Franco) has grown up hating the Irish for killing his family and has made a strong allegiance to father figure Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell), while Isolde (Sophia Myles), Donnchadh's daughter, has grown up under her father's thumb. After a fierce battle that leaves Tristan near death, he washes up on Irish soil and is nursed secretly back to health by Isolde, who tells him she's someone else. The two fall madly in love, but Tristan must return to England before he's discovered. Meanwhile, Donnchadh decides to stage a tournament between all the champions of England, with his daughter as the prize. Tristan ends up winning the princess' hand for Lord Marke but is horrified to find out she's his own true love. Tristan and Isolde now must suppress their love for the sake of peace and the future of England. But despite their best efforts to stay apart, the lovers are driven inexorably together.


Despite the fact that Franco (Spider-Man) and Myles (Underworld) look lovely, rolling around on the ground in romantic trysts and gazing forlornly at one another, you don't necessarily feel any heat between them. That seems to be mostly the fault of Franco, who plays the young Tristan far too stoically. We understand he's a tortured soul, torn between duty and love, with his eyes perpetually half-filled with tears. But couldn't he have shown a little more passion (and, while he's at it, washed his hair)? The luminous Myles is better at showing her burning desire, but she, too, is left many times sad and weepy. Only Sewell (Legend of Zorro), who is usually delegated to playing bad guys, shows any kind of raw emotion as he first falls genuinely in love with his bride--and then is betrayed by her and the only son he ever knew. He'd probably make a great King Arthur.


As the Celtic myth of Tristan and Isolde predates the Arthurian legend, as well as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, you can easily see how those two more famous stories were possibly formed. Tristan & Isolde is a classic story of forbidden passion, set against political upheaval, as well as a tale about a tragic love triangle. Producers Ridley and Tony Scott had been fascinated with the legend for many years and finally got the opportunity to bring it to the big screen. Ridley, however, who directed last summer's medieval fare Kingdom of Heaven, wisely chose to hand over the directing reins to Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), who adequately paints a picture of a time when chaos reigned. Maybe Tristan & Isolde is not as compelling or romantic as the king of them all, Braveheart, but it is certainly far more accessible than say, Kingdom of Heaven. Sorry, Ridley.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 stars.