Movie Review: Tristan and Isolde (2006)

TristanThumbby Brad Nelson
This is one of my brother’s finds. I would never have picked it up myself. Looks too chick flick just going by the cover. And I just got done reaming James Franco for his lightweight performance in The Great Raid. I mean, the man is pretty. I’ll grant that. But I’ve never seen him act. Until now.

Let me cut to the chase. This was a splendid movie. The only thing you’ll wonder about is who has the nicest breasts, Franco (who has his shirt off half the time in his portrayal of Tristan) or the gorgeous Sophia Myles who plays an outstanding Isolde (and who, unfortunately, has her shirt on most of the time).

And if that weren’t enough, you get to enjoy a brilliant and understated less-is-more performance by Rufus Sewell who plays one of the main Lords. I think he’s the Lord of Cornwall or something. But he’s got a castle so he must be a somebody.

I don’t know much about the story, but I guess it’s an old medieval legend and also a famous opera by Wagner. But it’s one heck of a classic story. It’s got heroism. It’s got shifting alliances. It’s got dolts. It’s got kings scrambling for power. It’s got betrayal, love triangles, sword fights, tournaments, kissing, breast-warming (you’ll love that), ragged cliffs, flaming funeral pyres, and mistaken identities. About the only thing it hasn’t got is product placement, unless someone has a castle for sale in Cornwall.

I’m really surprised by the much better quality of Franco’s acting in this one than in The Great Raid. And this whole thing is beautifully photographed. It’s a feast for the eyes. It’s just an outstanding production all-around.

But this is not a movie I would have rented in a million years. But it’s good enough that I’m surprised that I had never heard of it before. I give it 3-3/4 hypothermia treatments out of 5. This is certainly one of those movies that both guys and girls will like. It has heaps of romance and lots of nasty sword wounds.


A gripping tale of two young lovers whose forbidden love crosses the boundaries of rival kingdoms and marital commitment. At the film’s commencement, Britain is at war with Ireland, and the English lords and barons are seeking to form an alliance to overturn the ruthless Irish king, Donnchadh. However, on the night they are to sign treaties to unite their kingdom, the Irish penetrate the Castle Tantallion, slaughtering all but a few of the English. Among these is young Tristan of Eragon, whose life is saved by Lord Marke, Britain’s only promising leader remaining. More »

Tristan & Isolde begins with bits of the same myth that has inspired works ranging from sword & sorcery movies (“Lovespell”) to operas by Wagner, and transforms them, rather surprisingly, into a lean and effective action romance.

The movie is better than the commercials would lead you to believe — and better, perhaps, than the studio expected, which may be why it was on the shelf for more than a year. Distributors who are content with the mediocre grow alarmed, sometimes, by originality and artistry: Is this movie too good for the demographic we’re targeting? More »

Available on widescreen DVD ($6.49 new, $0.48 used), Blu Ray ($10.98 new), or Amazon Instant Video ($2.99, $3.99 HD). Not available for streaming on Netflix.


Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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