Tristan and Isolde have suffered enough. This movie feels like overkill.
Oh, their legend will survive. But this classic comics-style perfume commercial of a re-telling will not.
The ampersand is a giveaway. “And” isn’t good enough? An ampersand is, what, edgier?
Who needs edgier when you’ve got James Franco? His cheekbones alone could cut glass, but, though he played James Dean in a made for television biopic, he is more sullen than brooding.
Edge isn’t exactly what this story needs. It is, after all, a classic of thwarted love. King Mark (Rufus Sewell), who is trying to hold together a fragile coalition of British lords, sends Tristan to win his bride Isolde (Sophia Myles), the sister of the king of Ireland. This is a strategic move. The Irish have been looting and oppressing the English, and Mark thinks that if he can unite the English and marry the Irish king’s sister, he may be able to achieve peace.
Tristan wins the bride, not knowing she is the woman he loves. After an earlier battle, she found him and nursed him back to health without telling him who she was. They fell in love. And now he has to delive her to another man. Mark saved Tristan’s life and raised him like a son after his parents were killed by the Irish. And Isolde’s marriage to Mark is the only chance for peace. It’s time for that noble speech — you know, the one about how “I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more.”
Okay, that poem was about 400 years from being written. But that’s the idea.
It’s not awful — except for the instant camp of a scene where Isolde decides to warm up the injured Tristan by — taking off all her clothes and wrapping him in them and then hugging him nude, ordering her lady’s maid to do the same. It’s just syrupy. In this version, T&I get swept away not by grand passion but by pulsating hormones. Though they talk about honor and posterity and doing what’s best for others, they behave like a couple from “Desperate Housewives.”
Families who enjoy this movie might want to find out more about the real story or explore some of the other versions, like the opera by Wagner or the traditional poetic versions. They may also enjoy the story of King Arthur, which was inspired in part by this legend. They will also enjoy A Knight’s Tale, a silly but enteertaining story of knights and jousting with Sewell (who can out-brood Franco with one eye shut) as the bad guy.