Film review: Tristan + Isolde (2006), directed by Kevin Reynolds
(they use a plus because of Romeo + Juliet ten years earlier?) is the story of two star-crossed lovers from medieval legend. It begins with a young Tristan (Thomas Sangster), who lives a fairly happy life in a village somewhere on the west coast of what is now Britain. Their village is attacked by the Irish, and Tristan’s family and most of the people he knows are killed. He was hidden away, so he got away unscathed. Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell), who lost a hand and a wife in that battle, takes care of him and raises him as a son.
Years go by and Tristan grows up into James Franco, with Henry Cavill as his adoptive brother Melot. Things seem to go pretty well for them, but the provinces of Britain would do better to unite under one person’s leadership, and that person should be Marke. Wictred (Mark Strong) and others aren’t as sure.
Meanwhile in Ireland, the queen has died and her husband, Donnchadh (David O’Hara), decides to reward his faithful soldier Morholt (Graham Mullins), with his daughter Isolde (Sophia Myles – Beth from Spooks 9!). Isolde isn’t impressed, and very happy to see her creepy betrothed sail off to Britain to murder and slaughter some more. In the ensuing battle, Morholt is killed by Tristan, and because Tristan was cut by a poisoned blade, he dies. Or so his friends think, putting him on a boat out to sea, as per funeral rites of the time.
However, unsurprisingly, Tristan’s not actually dead. He floats ashore in Ireland, where Isolde and her maid Bragnae (Bronagh Gallagher) find him and nurse him back to health in secret, only to later make him return to his homeland – but not before they’ve fallen in love, of course.
Later, Tristan returns to Ireland again to fight as Marke’s champion. The prize is the king’s daughter Isolde and land. The only problem with this is arrangement is that Tristan is under the impression that the woman who nursed him to health was called Bragnae and was a maid (who in turn had an unnamed maid) – not that she was a princess called Isolde. Being re-united with the woman he loves – fab. Having won her in a tournament – fine. Having won her on behalf of another man – bummer. He takes her back to Britain and the rest of it is basically them two getting it on behind Marke’s back.
Marke is a decent man, who loves and respects his new wife, which makes it all the more difficult to go behind his back. After all, as Isolde herself points out, she cannot hate him. Oy vey.
The first “If X and Y had a love child” post was conceived (har har) while half-watching this movie a while back, when I noticed how one of king Donnchadh’s men, Bodkin (Ronan Vibert) looked remarkably like a cross between Alan Rickman and Ciarán Hinds. This time, I knew I had him to look forward to, so when he came up on screen, the similarity was so striking it made me giggle. He’s probably a good actor and all, but I just can’t get past the whole Hinds/Rickman mash-up.
As a love story, it’s as chipper as Romeo and Juliet, with a marginally less depressing ending. I don’t know what breaks my heart most: that Tristan and Isolde can’t be together as a couple or that Isolde betrays Marke. I’m leaning toward the betrayal, and not just because I think I prefer Rufus Sewell over James Franco.
I like the medieval setting and the clothes, and I really like Bronagh Gallagher every time I see her in something, but somehow, Tristan + Isolde is a largely forgettable film. The love story in itself, less so, but the film feels a bit meh. And that Isolde’s betrayal of her husband is sadder than her not being able to bonk Tristan “honestly” is probably a good indication that something’s gone wrong here.
An average 3 out of 5 heather bracelets.