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The Dark Ages in Britain - Via Prague

10 October 2003   |   Written by Jeremy Kay

Ridley Scott first sent director Kevin Reynolds a script for the medieval love story four years ago, but it took until earlier this year for finance to fall into place Jeremy Kay reports.

Filming on Scott Free’s epic romantic tragedy Tristan & Isolde recently started in Prague, where the Czech Republic location is doubling for England and Ireland in the Dark Ages. Directed by Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, 187), the latest telling of this British myth pairs hot young British star Sophia Myles with on-the-rise US heart-throb James Franco.

The story is set shortly after the fall of the Roman Empire as the Irish king Donnchadh’s subjugation of English tribes inspires an orphan, Tristan, to lead a spirited resistance. He then meets Irish princess Isolde and their fates intertwine as the war gathers pace.

The production has moved from north-west Ireland to the outlying forests of Prague, where the crew has erected pre-medieval buildings for several weeks of exterior shots before relocating to the city’s CKD Studio until early December. “We’ve picked some beautiful locations and have a very tight schedule, but we’ve got some very nice stuff from Ireland and Prague,” Reynolds reveals. “The technicians here are world class and their level of skill is as good as anywhere else.”

Executive producer Ridley Scott sent Reynolds a script for the film four years ago but it was put on hold until the financing fell into place. The Czech- German-UK co- production is being funded through Germany’s Apollo Media, the Czech Republic’s Stil- Iking, Sycamore Productions in Ireland and Matrix in the UK, with 20th Century Fox handling the US and Franchise serving as interna- tional sales agent. “I was honoured he sent it to me,” Reynolds adds. “This is a great script and it’s an exciting challenge to realise it effectively on the screen. Sophia and James have been doing very well. We are sort of getting to the meatier scenes now, so it will be interesting to see how they go.”

One of the biggest challenges has been recreating an era that, to a large extent has been shrouded in mystery. “The world we are creating is one that is very obscure in terms of docu- mentation,” says Scott Free’s Jim Lemley, who serves as executive producer and worked previously with Reynolds on 187. “There is very little that tells you what it must have been like to live at that time because it was after the Roman Empire had receded. Ridley has been unbeliev- ably supportive and enthusiastic as executive producer and he has been our creative force. ” Scott is no stranger to recreating ancient worlds. Memorably, Gladiator began with down and dirty battle scenes between the Roman army and the German barbarian hordes, and the director has now embarked on Kingdom Of Heaven, a Crusades-era epic set in the 12th Century which he intends to shoot in Morocco.

Lemley, who executive produced We Were Soldiers, last visited Prague as production manager on Immortal Beloved in 1994 and is stunned by the way it has developed its services: “It’s a first class city that benefits from its present cost base. It’s well located in Europe and they have a rich history of film-makers and artisans, and a tremendously motivated workforce. In a few weeks we’ll go to the studio “6 a converted industrial site ‘that hosted Blade 2 and Hellboy.” Tristan & Isolde is due to be released next year.