Tristan + Isolde
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Kevin Reynolds
scr Dean Georgaris
with James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell, Henry Cavill, David O'Hara, Mark Strong, Bronagh Gallagher, Ronan Vibert, Jamie King, Dexter Fletcher, Lucy Russell, Thomas Sangster
release US 13.Jan.06,
UK 21.Apr.06
06/US Fox 2h06

I feel pretty: Myles and Franco (with Gallagher in the background)

franco myles sewell

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Tristan + Isolde Based on a Celtic tale from the Dark Ages, it's fascinating to see how this haunting story has had an impact on everything from Arthurian legend to Shakespeare. But the film is far too Hollywood-slick.

Tristan (Franco) is an orphan raised by Lord Marke (Sewell) in Cornwall, where he quickly becomes the trusted second-in-command, above Marke's nephew, Tristan's best friend/"brother" Melot (Cavill). When Tristan falls in battle, his funeral barge washes ashore in Ireland, where he's rescued and nursed back to health by Isolde (Myles), daughter of the Irish king (O'Hara) who rules Britain with an iron fist. Their love can never be, and when Tristan gets home things get even more complicated for the young lovers.

The central romance is quite powerful, but Reynolds seems far more interested in political tension and battle action. So the film becomes much more A Knight's Tale than Romeo & Juliet, concentrating on manly fighting, jealousy and betrayal, while the yearning, forbidden love hovers around the edges. It doesn't help that the film is full of modern touches in the characters and situations, or that everything is strangely clean and pretty. This odd tonal mix constantly flings us out of the real story.

At least the cast is good. Franco and Myles are lovely to look at and have a nice spark of chemistry; they play their relationship extremely well, to the point where we are almost shouting to them to just snap out of it before someone dies. The supporting cast is also superb; Sewell gets the most intriguing role as the conflicted Marke (although he's far too heroic and enlightened).

Production values are high--the film looks terrific. And the love story is compelling. So it's a shame that the whole thing is continually overwhelmed by action mayhem that feels like it's invading not from Ireland but from a Michael Bay movie set next door. There's just far too much emphasis on fight competitions and sneaky betrayal and power grabbing and military strategy. If the filmmakers had managed to concentrate on the real story, this could have been a terrific romantic drama.

cert 12 themes, violence, sexuality 19.Jan.06

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2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall