The ideals of honor, duty and sacrifice play out more often in a military academy than a film about love.
“Tristan & Isolde” sets itself against bloody battle scenes, jealousy, betrayal and brutality in the Dark Ages. But it also sets itself against these high ideals.
The story of “Tristan & Isolde” stems from a Celtic legend told long before Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers took to the stage. Their unlikely and tragic love story almost dooms a blossoming nation.
But unlike Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde do not throw everything away for love. Instead, they sacrifice love for honor.
While the story of forbidden love is universal, the story of Tristan and Isolde has more plot twists and turns than a soap opera.
To make a long story extremely short, the Irish king held the English tribes in check to ensure his dominance. One English lord wants to join forces and break the Irish stronghold. Tristan, his best knight, is killed in battle, and his body is put on a boat and sent out to sea.
But he’s not dead ” just in a comalike state because the warrior he fought had poison on his sword blade. He washes up on the Irish coast and is found by the Irish princess. But she doesn’t tell him she’s the princess. Tristan heals and sails back. The Irish king gives his daughter as the prize in a tournament of the English tribes, and Tristan wins her for his lord even though he’s in love with her, too.
And that’s just the beginning.
Yes, some of the film is a little over the top and a little less than plausible ” an unconscious Tristan makes it from England to Ireland without any issues ” but sometimes these impossible angles make the movie more touching.
As the lovers, James Franco and Sophia Myles can show the moral tug-of-war their characters face with a simple glance. Their love for each other conflicts with the duties each is required to fulfill because Isolde is now the wife of Lord Marke, who raised Tristan.
Rufus Sewell, who plays Lord Marke, shows a compassionate and loving side that ” even though we’re supposed to cheer for the lovers ” evokes sympathy for the cuckolded husband.
The battle scenes are a harsh contrast to the tender love scenes. Director Kevin Reynolds leaves little to the imagination as every fight and every gory death gets more air time than a lovers’ kiss.
But Reynolds crams both themes into an almost-overwhelming plot. But the film doesn’t drag. Reynolds doesn’t rush to get to his ending, either. Somehow, the action flow never stops.
Although the story is classic, “Tristan & Isolde” isn’t a typical romantic drama. Those who risk everything for a fleeting moment of happiness and love aren’t supposed to give up the one thing they desire most.
With that in mind, the hopeless romantics of the world will have a hard time dealing with the decisions Tristan and Isolde make. They will argue that love is supposed to conquer all and overcome all obstacles. Lovers should be united in life or in death, they will say. Otherwise, they claim, it’s not a good love story.
But “Tristan & Isolde” shows how potent sacrifice and honor can be when combined with the power of love, even if those themes don’t make for the happy ending.