Tristan + Isolde

Long before Jack and Ennis — before Romeo and Juliet, even — there was Tristan and Isolde, a pair of star-crossed lovers whose undying but forbidden love has inspired everyone from Richard Wagner to Dorothy Parker. Inspiration, however, isn't exactly the word behind this most recent telling: Director Kevin Reynolds isn't so much inspired as determined...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Long before Jack and Ennis — before Romeo and Juliet, even — there was Tristan and Isolde, a pair of star-crossed lovers whose undying but forbidden love has inspired everyone from Richard Wagner to Dorothy Parker. Inspiration, however, isn't exactly the word behind this most recent telling: Director Kevin Reynolds isn't so much inspired as determined to tell it with period accuracy, without bothering to be historically accurate. A century after the fall of the Roman Empire, Britain has devolved into a hodgepodge of rival tribal territories whose squabbling rulers have made it easy for the Irish king Donnchadh (David Patrick O'Hara) to keep them all under his ruthless thumb. An attempt by Marke of Cornwall (Rufus Sewell) to unite the diverse regions is quickly quashed by an Irish invasion that kills many of Marke's loyal lords, including the father of young Tristan of Aragon (Thomas Sangster). As he attempts to rebuild his decimated kingdom, Marke raises Tristan as if he were his own son. Nine years later, a duty-bound Tristan (a miscast James Franco, with a British-by-way-of-Bay Ridge accent) continues to repay Marke's kindness by slaying the hulking Irish warrior Morholt (Graham Mullins), but is so badly wounded that he's mistaken for dead and set adrift in a funeral boat. Tristan eventually comes ashore on the Irish coast, where he's found and nursed back to health by none other than Donnchadh's beautiful daughter Isolde (Sophia Myles). Isolde keeps Tristan hidden from her father and is careful never to reveal her true identity, and the two soon become lovers. When Donnchadh's men begin scouring the coast, Isolde helps Tristan escape back to Cornwall, even though it breaks her heart. Not long after, Donnchadh devises a plan to sow further dissent among the English tribes by pitting the English barons against each other in a tournament of skill. The prize: his daughter's hand in marriage. Unaware that Isolde and the woman who saved his life are one and the same, Tristan offers to fight in Marke's stead, but when he wins he's devastated to learn that he must now turn over the woman he loves to the man who has loved him like a son. No sense of duty, however, not even an allegiance to the throne of the nascent British nation, will prove strong enough to keep these lovers apart. Taking a cue from Anton Fuqua's dull KING ARTHUR, Reynolds and screenwriter Dean Georgaris have jettisoned all the fantasy aspects of the ancient story — no magic love potions, maiden-munching dragons or fairy puppies in this telling — and even saw fit to change that famous ending for something a little less melodramatic. But in so doing they've also taken out a lot of the fun, opting instead for a middle ground that will no doubt frustrate the original story's built-in LORD OF THE RINGS audience and aficionados of early English history alike.