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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 23 November 2013
Being myself in the process of deeply exploring the myth from the written tradition of the 12th century to modern adaptations, I must admit this film is impressive because it saves us from both black and white magic and from too much suspension of our disbelief, or couldn't it be belief?

First of all the film shows the "real" historical context of this fable. It pushes it back to an undetermined period after the fall of the Roman Empire. But the various Germanic tribes are already in Britain, the Jutes, the Angles and the Saxons. The Celts were already there and the Picts are added to the picture with little real involvement. The Irish in Ireland are the only faction that is living in an island that had never been occupied by the Romans. They take advantage of the divided situation in Britain to prosper on these divisions by inciting systematic rivalry between the various entities, raiding the various regions and first of all Cornwall and capturing young men and women to become slaves in Ireland. The only missing element is King Arthur, but I guess that would be too much legend for us, the modern audience, so it was kept out of the picture though it is very much present in the old tradition of the 12th century.

Then the film becomes a savage, wild and brutal film of action that would not be saved by anything if it were only action because it is not reasonable and believable. The historical value of it all is difficult to accept and the call from King Mark, the King of Cornwall and unifying king of England, to accept what is coming, to accept change, meaning the new power balance in Britain and in these isles, a new power balance that brings Ireland back down to being an isolated island and people, that call cannot be heard because the film neglects one essential element: the Celts are in Ireland for sure, but also in Cornwall, in Wales and in Brittany. What the legend insists on, the strange contradictory relations between the various Celtic factions, is not at all used here. This is all the more regrettable because it is in that period that the split between the two branches of the Celtic language becomes absolutely irreversible: Irish and Scottish (Goidelic) on one side and the others, Welsh, Cornish and Breton mostly (Brythonic), on the other side. The film in other words is transposing this real split that leads to the isolation of the Irish till the 17th century, or maybe the 16th century (remember they were the first to be Christianized in the 5th century and a clear allusion to it is present in this film) to the unity of the various Anglo-Saxon Germanic tribes with the local Celtic people of Cornwall (the Celtic heritage is mostly marginalized) and Wales (the Celtic heritage is strongly alive). I regret this flaw because this problematic is not absent in the old tradition.

The film is saved with the love story between Tristan and Isolde that is made dramatic by the action itself. Tristan loses his parents in an Irish raid and is raised by his uncle who is shown as being rather young. In fact he is a lot older than what he is shown to be in the film. He must be in his late thirties or early forties, which is quite old in a country where life expectancy is under 29. And here the film is really beautiful because there is absolutely no magic in that love affair. Forgotten the philter of love and death. Forgotten the first liaison on the ship bringing Isolde back to Ireland. Forgotten the dragon that will win Isolde to Tristan though he is on a mission to find the girl with the golden hair Mark has been brought one day by some bird. Forgotten the fake name of Tristan on his first sojourn in Ireland (Tantris) when dying of the poisoned blade and wound from Morholt. All that is replaced with Isolde promised to her own uncle Morholt (inbreeding plus great age difference since Morholt is the same age as her father or so). Isolde is an obedient daughter and she accepts her father's decision. And to crown it all it is Isolde who hides her name and pretends she is called Bragnae, the name of her older servant (who has not laid with a man for fifteen years when she lies down with him to warm him up and save him when Isolde tries to heal his wound.

Love is of course natural between Isolde and Tristan then, full sexual love of course and that love will last. Good riddance the magic because we know love is a magic of its own. And that's how Tristan was back from the dead. That love is the main subject and motivation of Mark, Tristan and even more characters, not only the love of a man and a woman that can be sexual but also the brotherly love between Tristan and Melot, fatherly love between Mark and Tristan. This love dimension is extremely important in the tradition because that is one thing that is changing in these old centuries: "amour courtois" or "courtly love" or even "fine amor" is being born along with "minnesängers," the singers of love, the minstrels, the "trouvères" and the "troubadours," the future "Meistersinger" of Richard Wagner, or if you prefer the famous Minnesänger Tannhäuser. This evolution is fairly important because it corresponds to the Catholic religious reform of the 9th century that will bring feudalism, the Peace of God, the agricultural revolution and the proto-industrial revolution. And that is missing in the film: this new world being born, alas with forceps and a caesarian, even if we see a city or at least a castle being rebuilt in stone, with now explanation why it became possible.

But the film is absolutely beautiful about this love affair, even if it is too systematically seen as sexual, having to be sexual. As Tristan concludes before dying: "I don't know if life is greater than death but love is more than either." And Isolde can read the obituary to her lover (without dying): "My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears, And true plain hearts do in the faces rest; Where can we find two better hemispheres Without sharp north, without declining west? Whatever dies, was not mix'd equally; If our two loves be one, or thou and I Love so alike that none can slacken, none can die."

Surprising how anachronistic Isolde was when she read in the dark ages, some time before the year 1000 a poem by John Donne who will only live in the 17th century:

The Good-Morrow
I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? were we not wean'd till then?
But suck'd on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers' den?
'Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be;
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone;
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown;
Let us possess one world; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mix'd equally;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that non can slacken, none can die.

What was I saying about the lack of a real historical dimension? But the emotional dimension is quite strong, even if it is too much reduced to hormonal passions like sex, hatred and jealousy.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
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on 29 April 2006
Tristian and Isolde is epic, old-fashioned, and handsomely produced and it features some of the best period detail I've ever seen in an historical film. Yes, it's often silly and corny, but the overall effect is one of eloquence and restraint with Director Kevin Reynolds, expertly capturing the political and tribal atmosphere of post-Roman Britain.

When the Romans left Britain in around 430AD, the country was left weak and fragile. The preyed-upon tribes, the Jutes, Angles, Saxons and Celts, among others, were yearning to unite against the region's Dark Ages dominant power, Ireland. Tristian (James Franco) finds himself caught up in this battle, when as a boy, Britain's powerful Lord Marke (an excellent Rufus Sewell), rescues him from a certain death after his parents are killed in an Irish attack.

Meanwhile, over on the west coast of Ireland, the lovely Isolde (Sophia Miles) is mourning the loss of her beloved mother who died by "ill vapors," leaving her at the mercy of her brutal father, the Irish King Donnchadh (David Patrick O'Hara), who is more concerned with using his gorgeous daughter for political expediency. When Tristian is mistaken for dead, and ends up shipwrecked in the Irish coast, Isolde finds him, nurses him - and loves him - without revealing her royal identity.

When his cover is blown, Tristian is forced back to Britain and when the couple next meet, she's the surprise "prize" wife, who will be donated to the winner of a tribes-of-Britain gladiatorial showdown, won by an unsuspecting Tristan on behalf of Lord Marke. Numerous torn loyalties, treacherous schemes, broken hearts, and bloody battles follow.

There are also a few romantic interludes, where Tristian and Isolde realize that they must be together, even though they are life-bound to fulfilling their respective duties. What makes this version so good is that it's not all about love, with Reynolds really giving us a feel for the political machinations of the time and the constant tensions between the Irish and the Brits and the various warring tribes

The film also features large chunks of professionally done action, including fierce attacks, clandestine ambushes and copious amounts of bitter, life sworn enemies welding their mighty swords. The film is convincing and gorgeous to look at courtesy of cinematographer Arthur Reinhart and production designer Mark Geraghty. They really make us feel we're in a reasonable fantasy facsimile of Britain circa AD 500.

The acting is solid, although Franco is a bit too much the moony moist-eyed mope as Tristan, and his performance is a bit too repetitious, but he certainly looks the part with his flowing locks of hair. Myles is excellent playing Isolde as an impulsive yet intelligent woman torn between duty and passion. And Sewell is a standout as the sympathetic Lord Marke; he's a kind, loving man and a visionary who's woefully blind as a man in love. Sewell deftly plays the climactic scenes as Marke progresses from betrayal to outrage to resignation.

While watching Tristian and Isolde I was reminded of the terrific 1981 film Excalibur that had the same kind of gritty sensibility. Obviously one can't compare them, as they are entirely different stories taking place at different times in England's history, but there is a certain similarity between them. The music and the set pieces and the costumes of both movies really make you believe you've traveled back in time. Mike Leonard April 06.
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on 21 December 2006
I cannot express just how much I loved this movie! The epic backdrop of scenes from the Irish coast and the Czech Republic (presented as England in the movie!) simply took my breath away! James Franco as Tristan of course steals the show with his portrayal of a man torn between honour, duty, and his one true love. Rufus Sewell as Lord Marke was as brilliant as I always expect him to be and Sophia Myles as Isolde was absolutely stunning! This is one of the true greats up there with Gladiator and should have received a much better response than it did! A timeless classic that you'll never forget
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on 1 November 2006
. . beautifully told in this visually stunning screenplay. Why was it not better known at the box office? My only conclusion is that unlike most left-liberal sponsored post-modern films the Irish are portrayed as the villains of the piece and the English as the heroes! That must have jarred with US audiences & the Notting Hill set! Set in the dark ages the film follows the adventures of English warrior Tristan who finds himself at the mercy of Irish princess Isolde. In hiding the pair fall in love but are soon torn apart by their warring peoples and by a code of loyalty and honour that is now all but forgotten. Rufus Sewell is simply superb as the sad but compassionate war leader Marke. The scenes of physical love are tender and sensitively recreated. The battle scenes are stunning. A grey, windswept pall hangs over the whole film to remind us that this is the dark ages but it does not detract from the lovingly filmed beauty of a nature free from motorways, housing estates and power lines. I thoroughly enjoyed this sweeping, adventurous, romantic legend so reminiscent of Lancelot & Guinevere. Recommended.
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on 20 July 2007
A romance/somewhat action flick. Tristan and Isolde share there story, proving that they have a shot, at the greatest lovers in history title.
James Franco ( Tristan ) gives a strong performance throughout, as we follow him trying to deal with his feelings for Isolde, played beautifully by Sophia Myles. Learning they can never be together, they don't take it lying down and steal as many moments as they can together. Surely this can't have a good ending? Then again what good love stories do? Having never heard of the story before this, I wasn't sure what to expect, but it really is worth a look!
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on 7 November 2006
I couldn't drag my boyfriend to the cinema to watch this so as soon as it came out on DVD I organised a girly night in and my best friend and I watched it. We both agreed that Tristan and Isolde is a great love story but even more heartwrenching than Romeo and Juliet or Wuthering Heights. The simple difference between the aforementioned and Tristan and Isolde is that honour is more important to Tristan than it is to Romeo or Heathcliffe. And......Tristan's father figure is not an ogre so it's impossible to take Tristan's side in saying that Isolde shouldn't be with him! As we watched the film we became ever more frustrated because it simply wasn't fair! Rufus Sewell was on top form as usual and James Franco was gorgeous! Girls watch it but be warned, it isn't for the faint hearted!
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on 13 February 2007
I got this film on a whim, preparing myself for another Disney-style crowd-pleaser film set in the dark ages (5th/6thC) , with jousting, medieval armour and stone castles etc... Was I wrong !

This is great, true to the legend (almost) and very realistic to the time period it's set in. The acting, casting, costumes, sets, atmosphere and the boats are great.

Well recommended for those who like their history and their love stories...
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on 5 November 2006
This is an excellent version of the ancient legend of Tristan and Isolde; a dramatic love story with many other themes such as betrayal and loyalty running through it. Although filmed on a small budget, it has the feel of an epic, with a strong cast, exciting and varied battle scenes and some stunning locations, such as remote Irish coastland. It was also interesting to see the interpretation of how Britain looked after the Romans fled and left us to it. There are many twists and turns in the film which will keep you hooked, particularly if you are new to the tale of Tristan and Isolde.
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VINE VOICEon 3 May 2009
I was very impressed with "Tristan and Isolde". It is a touching love story that is filmed beautifully and acted superbly. The film is set in the Dark Ages in a divided England under the yoke of Irish oppression. Tristan is a young warrior brought up by Lord Marke , a sort of stepfather, following his parents deaths at the hands of the Irish. Tristan is presumed dead after a battle and his corpse is sent out to sea in a boat, but he lands in Ireland and is restored to health by the beautiful Irish princess, Isolde. Tristan returns to England , but Isolde eventually follows him , ending up getting married to the kindly Lord Marke. However Tristan and Isolde's affair continues and this ends up causing all sorts of problems for both the English and the Irish kings and their tenuous political alliance. "Tristan and Isolde" is one of the best love stories that I have seen for a long time and the film oozes quality throughout.
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on 9 September 2015
More believable characters, settings, love and romance than the recent BBCs Lady Chatterleys Lover, but Franco is a slightly uneasy presence onscreen and unconvincing when he isnt swinging his sword. Myles is a much better actress than the slightly distracting irish accent allowed her to portray. Of course she is not as good as Cate Blanchett in Robin Hood, but then the accents are so much better than Russell Crowe in that film. Wish Myles was in more things. Worth a watch if you like this kind of period on screen where men are men, women are generally chattel, but love and honour can overcome all. Just don't expect the same level of intended and unintended humour as Robin Hood and you will probably enjoy the film. Decent middle ground between soppy chick flick and big boys action movie.
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