Tristan + Isolde is an Arthurian type legend from the 6th or 7th Century where the tribes of England are at war with the Irish and won’t unite to stave off defeat. Young Tristan, orphaned by the Irish, is taken in by King Marke of Cornwall (Rufus Sewell) where, as an 18 year old (James Franco), he demonstrates his brooding good looks and consummate fighting skill. He is the king’s favourite and is named as heir to the throne.
Apparently killed in battle by a cut from a poisoned blade, he is loaded onto a floating bier which is pushed out into the Irish Sea and set alight from flaming arrows. Some time later his boat washes up on the Irish shore. How did a wooden boat not completely ignite, notwithstanding the fact it was floating on a lot of water ? What chance is there that a row boat would make a safe passage across to Ireland all by itself ? Incredulous, true, but lets move on. Here we meet Isolde (Sophia Myles), the daughter of the Irish king (remember Romeo and Juliet folks and how that ended ?). She takes a fancy to this dying hunk of a man and with her maid, drags him miles along the beach to a wee hideaway in the cliffs, gives him the antidote to the poison and of course, they fall in love.
He escapes back to England, this time under rudder and sail (just in the nick of time, would you believe?) with the help of Isolde. The Irish king meanwhile holds a tournament with Isolde as the prize in a further bid to divide the English kings and make taking over their land, easier.
Our man Tristan turns up and fights for Cornwall. Naturally he wins (was there a doubt?) and claims Isolde … (wait for it) … for the king, not for himself. The king falls in love with Isolde and that allows young James Franco to express his full range of pouting, brooding and painful glances.
Where can this screenplay go ? The king is cuckolded, finds out, learns of their true love, banishes them both, is attacked by the Irish and Tristan returns just in time to try and save the day. Naturally he dies in the attempt and everyone is very sorry and here endeth the tragedy of Tristan + Isolde.
The quality of this historic love story is a step up on 2004’s King Arthur but it is no R&J, nor a Gladiator in terms of scripting or epic-ness. I was not moved by the emotive tragedy of it all as I had been led to believe I would. When Isolde says, “Why does loving you feel so wrong ?” I knew there was no going back. It really was the 21st century trying to do the 8th century for the 21st century. But looking at director, Kevin Reynolds filmography one starts to see a pattern : Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Waterworld and the execrable Count of Monte Cristo.
The handsome Rufus Sewell was welcome as a loving and kind character instead of the baddie role he often plays and Sophia Myles was plenty cute enough as the chatteled princess.
But between the all to convenient plot devices (the underground passage into the castle) and the mysterious fire burning properties (every other house in the village except for Tristan’s), it just couldn’t do it for me.