Making the Grades
A classic lovers' triangle takes to the screen in Tristan & Islode, featuring a fair maiden who has two of the nicest guys you can imagine vying for her attention. Unfortunately, interpersonal communications are not a primary talent for any of the members of this trio, allowing a little misunderstanding to begin the undoing of a grand, new kingdom.
The film places itself in the post-Roman period of Briton, when the struggling nation is just a patchwork of contentious splinter groups. Hoping to put an end to the domestic squabbling is the freethinking Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell). Using a sort of Medieval Power Point presentation, he demonstrates how their country could look if they would just come together.
His dream of unity is viewed as a nightmare by their neighbor King Donnchadh (David O'Hara). Knowing the strength of greater numbers would put the smaller population of Ireland at risk of a takeover, the ruler is ever on the lookout for ways to disrupt Briton's attempts at peace. Usually this means launching frequent frays across the Irish Sea. But then the monarch comes up with an ingenious idea. Instead of the hassles of traveling over the open waters to attack, why not invite the fighting factions into your own backyard? As bait he stages a contest for champions and offers a sumptuous grand prize -- a queen to take home. (Fortunately, he has a daughter beautiful enough to attract the warring leaders.)
The idea is a hit, but Lord Marke is too busy to attend himself. So he sends Tristan (James Franco) to win the damsel Isolde (Sophia Myles) in his stead. The faithful servant has been indebted to his master ever since Marke lost a limb saving the lad's life. Now a young man, the trusted Tristan literally acts as the Lord's right hand man.
Yet what neither Marke, Donnchadh or even Tristan realize is this won't be the first time Tristan and Isolde have met. While that's another long story (covered in the start of this film), suffice it to say the surprise is certain to lead to more reasons for battles, bloodshed, and secret sexual escapades as the young woman in question tries to please her new husband and old lover.
The decision to bring the family to this meandering mythical movie will depend on your tolerance for regular scenes of violence and a few scenes of canoodling between the lovers. Aside from seeing Marke handily disarmed, other graphic moments include an off-screen decapitation where the head is shown held high as a trophy, and many skirmishes in which men are shot with arrows, slashed with swords, and beaten with maces and other weapons. Sexually, we see mainly heads and shoulders for short moments that fade to black, and another scene depicting two women doffing their clothes in order to warm up an unconscious man.
Although the heated romance illustrates the unavoidable consequences resulting from a man putting his passions ahead of loyalty, logic, and common sense, it takes a long time (the film is over two hours long) before the script gets around to this moral. Considering all the detours, Tristan & Isolde isn't likely to be the best candidate for family movie knight.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Tristan & Isolde.
Was the conflict between Tristan and Marke unavoidable, or could different choices have produced a different outcome? Which is more important, Tristan’s love for Isolde or his loyalty toward Marke? Which choice would have benefited more people? What would you have done?