Sunday, September 07, 2008

Tristan + Isolde

2006, UK/Germany/US/Czech Republic/Ireland, directed by Kevin Reynolds

This version of the Tristan and Isolde mythology plays fast and loose with the usual tale, adding in a new plotline to ensure that the titular star-crossed lovers fall into each other's arms sooner rather than later - but complaining about adherence to the veracity of a legend is beside the point when it comes to Hollywood scriptwriting. The filmmakers are unashamed about presenting the mythology as a stripped down version of Romeo and Juliet, with Celts instead of Capulets - and the marketing gurus went as far as purloining the "+" from the posters for Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film version of the Shakespeare play.

The film opens with scenes of surprising brutality, as if director Kevin Reynolds wishes to emphasize that he will go beyond the usual costume drama to capture something of the feel of post-Roman Britain (and Ireland, where the filmmakers use the west of Ireland as an unconvincing stand-in for the east), though Monty Python ultimately did a far better job of conveying the grime and the gore that were probably the lot of most of the population in the darker part of the medieval era. Still, the script does a halfway decent job of portraying some of the issues of loyalty and political expedience that characterised the medieval nobility's interpersonal relations, and Rufus Sewell is especially good as King Marke, a man who is aware of the confines of his station and yet remains in many ways powerless to do anything about it. James Franco is less interesting as Tristan, but the very appealing Sophia Myles is fresh and vibrant as Isolde, albeit an Isolde who owes much more to the twenty-first century than the eighth.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States