Academic journal article Arthuriana

Tristan & Isolde

Academic journal article Arthuriana

Tristan & Isolde

Article excerpt

Tristan & Isolde, directed by KEVIN REYNOLDS from a screenplay by DEAN GEOGARIS, A 20th Century Fox release of a Scott Free Production and an Apollopromedia/MFF (Tristan and Isolde)/Stillking/Qi Quality Int. Co-production, 2006.

'Before Romeo & Juliet there was...' says the tagline, suggesting that the filmmaker assumes slim knowledge of the legend among the popular audiences he targets. Sadly, they will learn little more than that the lovers were caught in a triangle involving Isolde's husband and Tristan's lord, the leader of Cornwall, whose enemy was Isolde's father, the King of Ireland. The medieval legend that has enthralled so many from the twelfth century to the present is virtually unrecognizable.

What was the film's source? Some details point to Wagner's opera-the spellings of 'Isolde' and 'Marke,' Morholt as Isolde's betrothed, and the discovery scene in which Marke and Melot, among others, surprise the lovers in the woods at night. Yet there is very little Wagner, and therein lies a certain irony. Wagner pared down Gottfried's classic version to what he considered its essence-a tale of love and death. It is this tale, dehistoricized and stripped of its socio-political context, that appealed to so many in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including Denis de Rougemont, whose influential L'Amour et l'Occident (Love in the Western World, 1939) figured for years on the reading list of world literature courses. For Rougemont the film's tagline would make ample sense.

The irony of referencing Wagner is that the film appears to 'historicize' the legend in a manner reminiscent of Fuqua's King Arthur (2004), although, if Arthur's links to history are tenuous, those of the Cornish lovers are nonexistent. Nevertheless, the conflict that pits Marke, struggling to unite Britons, Angles, Saxons, and Picts, against King Donnchadh of Ireland is surely the most engaging element of the film, second only to the cinematography. It is clearly the focus of this 'live-action' film; next to it, the love story seems humdrum and lackluster.

Isolde (Sophia Myles) meets Tristan (James Franco) when his funeral barge washes up on the Irish shore. She and Bragnae warm him with their naked bodies (easily the most daring scene in the film) and heal his wounds with herbs. In an earlier scene when Morholt boasted about his poisonous sword and Isolde mentioned an antidote, he showed her an aphrodisiac ('makes hard men even harder'). …

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