Tuesday 18th January 2022

Tristan + Isolde (12A)
Directed by: Kevin Reynolds
Reviewed by: Paul Fonz

It's fairly well known that William Shakespeare often reused themes and stories in his works, usually improving on them with each iteration. So, in the words of the voiceover guy on the trailer, before Romeo and Juliet, there was Tristan and Isolde (pronounced "is old" in case you were wondering). Although, it does seem the use of the ‘+' sign in the title is just a cynical attempt to cash in on the success of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet.

Tristan and Isolde sneaking off for a quickie
Tristan and Isolde sneaking off for a quickie

The plot of this adaptation sees James Franco (whose performance in Spider-Man 2 is underrated) as Tristan, the son of an English Baron. Well, that's slightly incorrect; because Tristan + Isolde is set before England was formed. In fact, what we now think of as England is split up into several large tribes in this film, who refuse to unite behind one leader. Unfortunately, no one tribe is strong enough to defend themselves against the armies of King Donnchadh of Ireland.

Tristan and his stepfather, Marke, make several attempts to unite the tribes of Briton, during which time Tristan is badly injured and discovered half-dead by Isolde, the daughter of the Irish King. The very model of compassion, she heals Tristan and sends him back home, but not before the pair of them fall in love.

Things become more complicated when Donnchadh executes an evil plan, part of which involves marrying his daughter off to one of the English lords. The lucky lord in question, though, is Tristan's revered leader, Lord Marke.

Kevin Reynolds might not be a chap who makes brilliant films, but a look through his fairly meagre back catalogue tells you that the films he does make are usually worth a look. Whether it's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Rapa Nui, Waterworld or The Count of Monte Cristo, more often than not there is plenty to enjoy and some interesting content to take in.

His latest film is certainly no exception. Indeed, it reminded me at times of Robin Hood, and Rapa Nui was not without its Shakespearean themes. There is plenty of action in this film, with woodland skirmishes and epic battles that hark back to Gladiator, Braveheart and 2004's King Arthur – quite unusual for a Shakespeare adaptation.

Action aside though, the pacing of this film is quite masterful. It dashes along from plot point to plot point without giving the audience any time to get bored of what could be an overlong telling of a fairly simple story. The classic Shakespearean themes of love, tragedy, honour, loyalty, misunderstanding and irony are all present and dealt with well.

I'm always dubious of Shakespeare adaptations that don't use something at least approaching the original language, but in this case the decidedly modern dialogue works pretty well and certainly keeps things simple. Will's plots can sometimes seem a bit nebulous when half your time is spent deciphering his flowery prose. Perhaps if I'd read the original play I would be more critical of this version, but as a film in its own right I think it's pretty good – and certainly a cut above most similar films. It could so easily have come out as another King Arthur, but instead I'm happy to recommend this one as "worth a look".

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Length: 125 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Official Site:
IMDB Link:
Release Date: 21st April 2006

Top Five Rating: 80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0%80.0% (80.0%)
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