Review: Tristan + Isolde

I have been in love with medieval fiction since I was in my mid-teens. I read Morte D' Arthur, Mists of Avalon, etc. One of the stories I loved the most was the story of Tristan & Isolde. Finally, someone else realized this story was more poetic, dramatic, tragic, and beautiful--WAY better than the classic Romeo & Juliet, and written a LONG time before William Shakespeare was even born. To this day, I am enamored with medieval fiction and I love to "live" in that world.

I'm not quite ready to do my review. I wanted to mention the wonderful tale of the love triangle of King Arthur, his Queen Guinevere, and his best friend and knight of the Round Table, Lancelot. Lancelot meets Guinevere prior to her becoming queen. They fall in love. His best friend and king, Arthur, marries her and takes her as his queen, and so Lancelot and Guinevere's love is forbidden. They continue to love each other as years pass. Arthur eventually realizes it, but accepts it--he loves his wife as well as his best friend Lancelot (though not in a pervy way). I just love stories about doomed lovers, their love feels more eloquent. Anyway, after years of trying to conceive an heir, Arthur invites Lancelot into the royal bed, in hopes that Lancelot can impregnate Guinevere. From there, things get rough for the three. I won't ruin it for you, if you don't know the rest. I haven't even mentioned Arthur having sex with his sister, Morgaine, creating the one and only heir to the throne--a product of incest. In some stories, Morgaine devised this plot, but in some versions, they are both innocent victims. They hadn't seen each other since they were children and were both masked during a ritual both had to complete. Morgaine realizes he is the father of her child later, but doesn't tell her brother. So, we've got a romantic and tragic love triangle, incest, backstabbing from other family members, and trying to manage keeping the Saxons at bay, etc.

So you know, this will more detailed than a typical review. So...Tristan is a knight of Arthur's. Tristan is from Cornwall. He is supposedly the best swordsman ever (don't stories always go like that--Lancelot is also supposed to be the best swordsman too).

Hmm...I'll start with the movie. Thinking Tristan is dead after a battle, his fellow knights send him on a boat and light in on fire. The fire dies and he is unscathed. He arrives across the way in Ireland and is found and tended to be Isolde. They fall in love and then he must make a hasty retreat back to Cornwall because the Irish warriors have discovered that he is there (they don't know specifically who he is). Isolde had lied about her identity.

Later, the King of Ireland offers his daughter, Isolde, as a prize in a tournament for the knights of Cornwall. Tristan goes and wins the tournament as his King's champion (his adoptive uncle Mark, whom he loves as a father and vice versa). Isolde is excited when Tristan wins, thinking she will get to marry him. She is crestfallen to learn that she will now be married to Tristan's uncle. Tristan did not realize that the King of Ireland's daughter was Isolde, as she had told him that her name was Bragnae and that she was a lady's maid. When he sees who he has won for Mark, he is also crestfallen, but it is too late. This will restore peace between Ireland and Cornwall, and also unite the tribes. There cannot be any reneging on this.

***In the stories, Tristan and Isolde accidentally drink a potion that would make the drinkers forever in love with the first person they viewed after drinking it. Well, this only further solidified that their love would always be as strong as it was. The potion was meant for Isolde and Marke, but Isolde and Tristan drank it on the voyage back to Cornwall.

So...Mark and Isolde marry and Tristan and Isolde are tormented by their love for each other. Tristan is bond my duty, loyalty, and love for his uncle, who truly ends up loving Isolde. They sneak around to see each other. In the movie, not much time passes, but in the stories, Tristan and Isolde get away with their trysts for years.

Sorry, back to the movie version...eventually they get caught and well...I'm not going to let you know the rest. Even if I did write the details, it doesn't detract from the story at all. It is still beautiful.

James Franco is a wonderful actor (you may remember him from the Spider-man movies as Peter's best friend or from Freaks and Geeks). He has not yet been given his due credit. I think he has a wonderful range. He doesn't look flawless, but is nonetheless attractive. He is very talented and well-deserving of the hefty role of Tristan. His face is exquisitely expressive when showing Tristan's torment of knowing his true love belongs to another. I don't know who the girl is (don't care). She's beautiful, she did a good job, but she really wasn't a stand-out. A handful of other actresses could have handled the role of Isolde with equal or better talent. Still, she is the other lead and did a good job.

****Some differences from the stories and the movie--in almost every story, Mark is a complete dickhead. The movie made Mark a noble and respectable man, one who loved Isolde, who treated her like a precious treasure, who was kind and fair and just a wonderful human being. He lost a hand saving Tristan as a child. He was not able to save Tristan's parents, but he managed to save Tristan and raise him like a son, alongside his sister's son (Mark's nephew), Melot. I really like that they gave the story more depth by making Mark a good man.

Some other differences: 1) the story was stretched out over several years, 2) Mark was pissed when he found out about Tristan & Isolde only because of how it would look to his men--that he couldn't control his own wife, 3) Tristan was sent deliberately to Isolde, his men knowing he was alive and knew that Isolde was the "best bestest healer"--if he had any chance, it was Isolde. They disguised Tristan as an Irishman and delivered him to Isolde in Ireland, 4) In some stories, Isolde's /father/ is dead, and her mother is the Queen of Ireland. This varies from story to story. There are more differences, but too many to mention because there are so many versions of the tale of Tristan and Isolde.

I don't know how many guys would like this movie or deem it a "chick flick". Unlike The Notebook, it certainly is not going to induce tears. However, it is very powerful and beautiful. It is a tangled skein (thanks Piers Anthony) of a sense of loyalty, duty, honor, true love, love of a king, love of an uncle/father figure, love of your countrymen, torment, deception, forbidden but undeniable love.

Tristan is involved in other Camelot stories, too, but this is like his "feature story"--his own tale, really. It's an offshoot of Arthur's stories, just like The Green Knight is an offshoot. If you like this movie, read Rosalind Miles' books (a trilogy) on Tristan & Isolde. But, to cap off this "review"--Romeo and Juliet have NOTHING on Tristan & Isolde. This isn't a couple of whiny, rebellious 13 year olds who are affected by puppy love. There are more elements to Tristan + Isolde--to be together could mean a nation at war. Their actions affect more than a family, they affect their fellow countrymen, their love could start a war and so much more. See...pure, true love that is denied...the will always be one of my favorites and I am so grateful that someone finally made this into a movie. It's too bad it didn't do too well in theatres, but neither did The Notebook, and now EVERYONE has seen it and cried. Hopefully, rental numbers will go up for Tristan & Isolde.

At the same time, I liked having this story all to myself. I have never met anyone else who'd heard the story. They were always interested after I had told them some of what this very complicated story entailed, but...Well, it was just my own thing. I'm having a very hard time explaining this. When Mists of Avalon was finally made into a mini-movie on TNT, I was happy too, but at the same time, I felt a little protective of what had been a much-loved book that I've read 3-4 times. Also, you nitpick all the things that got left out. Once someone has seen the movie, no one reads the book, which is long, but SO much better. Jason has watched (and loved) Mists of Avalon--by the way, Sara, I want my dvd of Mists of Avalon back, please; yes, you still have it. Anyway, I'm trying to stop feeling selfish about my movies and encourage others to read the book and watch the movie. I wouldn't have bothered to write this lengthy blog if I didn't feel it was worth it. Either I absolutely HATE a movie and review it, or I absolutely LOVE a movie and review. I need to think up my own slogan, like "5 out of 5 stars" or "two thumbs up". Any suggestions??



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8:43 AM  

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10:43 AM  

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