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Tristan and Isolde Movie Poster

Tristan and Isolde

Genre: Drama/Romance
Rated: PG-13
Directed by
: Kevin Reynolds
Starring: James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell, David O'Hara
Released by: 20th Century Fox

In Short: In medieval times, English knight Tristan and his beloved Irish princess Isolde have a hard time keeping their affair a secret.

Lost in Adaptation
The Love That Couldn't Destroy an Empire
By Veronica Marian

The tale of Tristan, an English knight fighting against the Irish, and Isolde, the daughter of Ireland's king, has survived for almost a thousand years. Over time, the tale of the two lovers has inspired countless adaptations including songs, poems, films, plays and operas, the most famous being that by Richard Wagner. The latest addition to the list is Kevin Reynolds' very liberal adaptation, which has all the makings of a riveting historical epic—royal intrigue, a battle-fraught medieval setting and two great-looking lovers entangled in a torrid and complicated affair. The melancholic, rocky shores of Ireland and England's leafy forests provide a visually stunning backdrop for this story which tries to convince us that love cannot be bound by any human laws, even those of courtly duty and honor.

At a time when Ireland and the tribes of England are constantly at war, Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell) of Cornwall wants to unite all of England into one nation that can stand up to Ireland. Tristan (James Franco) is Marke's best fighter, his favorite knight as well as his orphaned nephew. Between the two of them, Marke and Tristan are hopeful that they will succeed in their unification goals. That is, until Tristan is believed to be killed by the poisoned sword of an Irish brute who is engaged to the beautiful Irish princess, Isolde (Sophia Myles). Clearly, Tristan is not in fact dead, but wakes to find himself wounded and naked in the presence of a blonde apothecary who nurses him back to health and, ultimately, love. Tragic mistakes then unravelIsolde refuses to reveal her true name, and Tristan wants so badly to get his girl that he enters a very dangerous and costly tournament. As if things aren't already hard to follow, the plot gets even more complicated as Tristan essentially (but unknowingly) wins Isolde's hand for his father-figure and lord, Marke. Unable to keep apart from one another, their affair threatens to be remembered as the love that destroyed an empire.

Sophia Myles as the romantic and rebellious Isolde makes an interesting, if anachronistic heroine, especially in her defiant relationship with her less-than-lovable father, King Donnchadh (David O'Hara). Her tantrums and attempts to run away from home are a bit too contemporary to be realistic, but she's so beautiful and sweet that we accept and even like her spunk. We could, however, do with a little less sweetness and a little more sultriness from the woman who makes Tristan commit the ultimate betrayal against his lord. Meanwhile, her beloved Tristan is touted as brave and handsome, if oddly over-coiffed and too pouty to be convincing as the bravest knight at Marke's court.

If Rufus Sewell wasn't so likeable in this movie, and if James Franco was just a little less reminiscent of whiny Anakin Skywalker, we might feel more sympathy for Tristan and Isolde. But Sewell's portrayal of Lord Marke makes the English king seem like a truly nice guy, and if it wasn't for the missing hand, he'd be pretty dashing
Isolde's really quite lucky to be with him. This is where the movie failsit doesn't convince us that the love between Isolde and Tristan is strong enough to make either of them betray Marke. The chemistry between Myles and Franco never rises above luke-warm, and frankly by the end of the movie, we're waiting for one of them to finally break it off. So don't be surprised if in the final scene, some people in the audience will be snickering instead of weeping into their lord's or lady's hankie.

(Updated: 01/23/08 NJ)

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