Directed by: Kevin Reynolds
Written by: Dean Georgaris
Other cast: James Franco, Henry Cavill, Rufus Sewell, JB Blanc, Dexter Fletcher, Bronagh Gallagher, David O'Hara, Lucy Russel
Release date: 13 January 2006 (US), 21 April 2006 (UK)
Running time: 125 min
After the fall of Rome, visionary warlord Marke (Rufus Sewell) seeks to unite the squabbling English tribes to form one strong nationand defeat brutal Irish King Donnchadh. But when Lord Marke’s greatest and most loyal knight, Tristan (James Franco), falls in love with Isolde (Sophia Myles), a beautiful Irish woman, it threatens to destroy the fragile truce and ignite a war. In the spirit of Braveheart and A Knight’s Tale, TRISTAN + ISOLDE is a rousing tale of trust and treachery that will leave you breathless!
The film is set in Great Britain and Ireland, in the Dark Ages, after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. Lord Marke of Cornwall (Rufus Sewell) plans to unify the peoples of Britain – Celts, Angles, Saxons and Jutes – under himself as high king to resist Irish domination.
Most lords agree to this, as Marke is highly regarded and respected as a fair and courageous leader. The Irish king Donnchadh (David O’Hara) discovers this and sends troops to attack a Jutish castle where a treaty between the British tribes is being discussed. The raid claims the lives of the castle’s lord and his wife, and Marke saves their son Tristan at the cost of losing a hand.
Feeling compassion for the young boy whose father loyally supported him, Marke welcomes Tristan (James Franco) into his home and regards him as a son. Tristan grows to be a fierce, courageous warrior whose loyalty to Marke is not that of a knight to his lord, but rather a son to his father.
Tristan and other Cornish warriors launch an attack on an Irish slave caravan: in the battle, he finds himself fighting Morholt, Donnchadh’s champion and leader of his army, to whom Princess Isolde (Sophia Myles) has been promised in marriage. Though he kills Morholt and Donnchadh’s forces are overrun, Tristan is severely wounded in the fight and believed dead, though he is in fact only suffering the effects of Morholt’s poisoned sword.
Tristan’s body is put out to sea on a funeral boat which eventually washes up along the shores of Ireland. He is discovered by Isolde and her maid Bragnae, who administer an antidote that revives him and then secretly nurse him back to health. Tristan and Isolde fall in love; however, Isolde does not disclose her real name.
After some time Tristan is forced to flee to Cornwall. He returns home to a hero’s welcome, where a confused but overjoyed Marke welcomes him back with open arms.
Plotting to defeat Britain, Donnchadh proposes a peace treaty, promising his daughter Isolde in marriage to the winner of a tournament. Tristan participates on behalf of King Marke, unaware that “the prize” is the woman he fell in love with in Ireland. He wins the tournament, only to discover the truth about Isolde and to see her betrothed to Marke.
Although Marke is kind to Isolde, and she grows fond of him, her heart still belongs to Tristan. Tristan, in turn, is torn between his love for Isolde and his loyalty to Marke, a man whom he has loved as a father and who saved his life as a child.
The couple eventually renew their love and begin an affair behind Marke’s back, although they often consider ending it for the sake of their duty to Marke. This affair is discovered by Lord Wictred (Mark Strong), a longstanding dissenter to Marke’s leadership. He conspires with Donnchadh to use their love to overthrow Marke, with Wictred getting Marke’s throne in exchange.
In Tristan’s final attempt to end the relationship, he and Isolde are caught in an awkward situation by all of the British kings. Seeing this as weakness on Marke’s part, the kings decide to part ways with Marke; the alliances are ruined and his wife and son-figure have betrayed him.
Marke is at first hurt and furious over their betrayal, but relents after hearing Isolde explain her history with Tristan and offers them the chance to run away together. But Tristan (who tells Isolde that if they elope, they will be remembered for all time as those “whose love brought down a kingdom”) chooses instead to stay in England and fight for his king.
At the same time, Marke’s nephew and Tristan’s old friend Melot (Henry Cavill), angry and resentful of his uncle’s long favouring of Tristan and tricked by Wictred’s seeming support of him, shows Wictred an old passage into the Roman foundations of Marke’s castle that Tristan and Isolde used to carry out their affair. Wictred then fatally stabs Melot and sneaks his army into the castle. Marke and his forces swiftly become pinned down by Donnchadh’s army outside the castle and Wictred’s men within.
Tristan sneaks back into the castle via the secret tunnel. On the way, he finds the dying Melot: the old friends forgive one another before he dies. Tristan emerges from the tunnel and attacks Wictred’s men, allowing Marke’s soldiers to secure the castle, but he is mortally wounded in combat by Wictred, though he kills Wictred shortly afterwards.
Now outnumbered, Tristan, Marke and the soldiers loyal to him emerge from the castle and present Wictred’s severed head to Donnchadh. Marke urges the British kings standing with the Irish to aid them in making Britain a single, free nation: inspired by his words, the British kings and their men attack Donnchadh and his army.
As a fierce battle between the British and Irish erupts, Marke carries a dying Tristan to the river, where they are met by Isolde. Marke leaves to lead the British to victory, while Tristan eventually dies in Isolde’s arms after uttering his last words of “You were right. I don’t know if life is greater than death. But love was more than either.” Isolde sees to his burial beneath the ashes of the Roman villa where they had met to be with each other, and plants two willows by the grave, which grow intertwined; she then disappears from history and is never seen again. Marke, it is said, defeated the Irish, united Britain, then ruled in peace until the end of his days.
Sophia plays the female lead in the movie, Isolde – the daughter of Irish king Donnchadh.
Isolde falls in love with Tristan (who she revived and nursed back to health) as well as having a fondness for her newly betrothed, meaning she is forced to live a lie – married to a man she does not love, and loving a man she cannot be with.
Originally Ridley Scott was going to direct the film in the late-’70s, right after his debut film The Duellists (1977). He put the film aside to direct Alien (1979).
Quotes from Others
With love scenes, it’s either there or it’s not. I’ve heard stories about some actors who don’t get along, hate each other and still have great chemistry on screen when they do the love scenes. But Sophia and I got along very well. We were very comfortable. Before those scenes, I don’t ever get nervous. I like a director like Kevin Reynolds from this film who was meticulous about everything, but during the love scenes said, ‘Just do it.’
executive producer Jim Lemley
Sophia is very talented and very instinctual. We felt that she was innocent enough, smart enough and daring enough to be Isolde. We knew that as soon as she walked out of the reading. Everyone else saw the tape and was blown away by her.
Quotes from Reviews
Myles reveals a few more colors on her palette while playing Isolde as an impulsive yet intelligent woman torn between duty and passion.
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. Sophia Myles plays Isolde as the daughter of a king, raised by the king’s rules, true to her own emotions but true, too, to her duty. She doesn’t mistake Isolde for the heroine of a teenage romance.
In a way this movie would have been more aptly called ‘Isolde & Tristan,’ because the luminous Sophia Myles, as Isolde, steals the show. This true English rose, playing an Irish princess who falls into a doomed romance with a young English warrior, has the emotional intensity and genuine screen presence to carry this film, and she does. From the first time she appears onscreen, you’re essentially waiting for the next time. There are some fairly interesting battle scenes, and the sweeping shots of the spectacular Irish and English terrain are often breathtaking, but it’s the natural beauty of Myles-both her physical gorgeousness and the affecting naturalness of her acting-that really holds the movie together. But the real revelation here is Sophia Myles. She is the heart and soul of the movie, anchoring it in a reality born of true, honest emotion. Time and again her character espouses love as the most important thing in life, something that transcends time and is stronger than death. Myles makes Isolde’s love feel real, like it really could be and do all those things and more. Any ability of this film’s tragic romance to move the audience is due entirely to her presence. She’s one to watch. If it weren’t for her radiant, passionate performance, we would probably feel a great deal less for these two star-crossed lovers.
The Seattle Times
Like Kate Winslet, whom the apple-cheeked Myles greatly resembles, this young British actress is a passionate presence on screen. Her Isolde, an Irish princess in the throes of a forbidden affair with a British warrior (James Franco), is ready to give up everything for love; her round eyes fix on Tristan, as if the world begins and ends with him. It’s not a great film, but it could well be remembered years from now, when Sophia Myles’ name — and face — is one we all recognize.
The Salt Lake Tribune
Bottom line: Sophia Myles is perfect as the beautiful Isolde, an Irish princess in love with an indecisive British warrior, in a formulaic medieval romance. As Isolde, Myles is luminous, radiating passion, beauty and a loyalty to Tristan.
Myles as Isolde gets across the couple’s passion and desperation. Isolde is sick of her female role as pawn and prize, but she needs Tristan’s strength to break free.
Sophia Myles, who has spent most of her young career playing supporting roles, finally gets her chance to shine. Her portrayal of Isolde is striking and impassioned, capturing all the pains and joys of a character torn in so many directions.
The Charlotte Observer
Sophia Myles (‘Underworld’) excellently portrays the tender Isolde, torn between her obligations of love and her thirst for something more.
Kenai Peninsula Online
And relative newcomer Sophia Myles is not only beautiful, but plays Isolde with an accomplished grace.
Inquirer Movie Critic
As Isolde, daughter of the Irish king scheming to keep Britannia’s tribes from uniting, Sophia Myles is radiantly intelligent and lovely. She is a resourceful actress whose Isolde is as true to period as she is contemporary.
The Dallas Morning News
The movie also benefits from exceptional performances by Mr. Sewell, who makes an honorable and compassionate Lord Marke, and Ms. Myles, who embodies Isolde with emotional determination.
As the conflicted title couple, James Franco (2004’s ‘Spider-Man 2’) and Sophia Myles (2004’s ‘Thunderbirds’) are well cast. Besides being a classic beauty, Myles pours her soul into her role as Isolde that makes your heart break for the injustices her character’s life path is faced with in a time when women of her place and stature had no other choice.
The MSU Reporter
Sophia Myles, a little-known actress, is intriguing as Isolde. Her beautiful features would make any man fight for her. She plays the role with grace, and her effort to play lust, love, sorrow and frustration shows rather well throughout the movie. This may be the role to pull her out of obscurity.
Even better is Sophia Myles (soon to be seen in Terry Zwigoff’s ‘Art School Confidential’), graceful and luminous as the Irish princess who is the other half of the love match.
Sophia Myles, on the other hand, is wonderful as the strong-willed, educated and impassioned Princess Isolde. Myles is a real find and makes her character into a genuine human being and a fine role model for young girls to boot. This is an excellent calling card for the young actress that should garner bigger and better roles. Tristan and Isolde tries to be both love story and tale of political intrigue and war. I think it is trying to be both chick flick and machismo movie. I’m not sure it does either well enough but it is a showcase for Sophia Myles.
Quotes from Sophia
There was a massive wrap party the evening before [on the set of Thunderbirds], and I wasn’t really thinking about my next job at all. I really couldn’t have cared less about another job just then, but I read the script, and loved it. It’s such a wonderful script with such a tragic love story that I couldn’t resist it.
I met [director] Kevin [Reynolds] and then they called back about a week later and asked would I come and screen-test with James. James was attached for about a year before I came onboard. We just hit it off straightaway and felt incredibly comfortable with each other. We had the right chemistry I suppose.
James was great, I was so happy to be working with him. I had seen his work before and was hugely impressed by his performance as James Dean – as everyone was. And I love him in the SPIDER-MAN films. He was on board for this film before I was and as soon as we met, we got on incredibly well. We had a great rapport and I think we have similar taste. I could not have asked for a nicer Tristan.
I loved making the film, because of lot of it was shot in Ireland and Connemara is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. Having the privilege to get work in a place like that is amazing and the scenery was wonderful, it was just so mystical and magical, absolutely breathtaking. And it was a real bonding time for all of us in the cast when we were there. We became such good friends and we got on so well. I became best friends with Bronagh Gallagher who plays Bragnae and Rufus Sewell who of course plays Marke. We were all drinking Guinness together every night and having a great old time. It was a really good laugh. We had two weeks of rehearsal and a month of shooting. I loved the time in Ireland. In fact the country was an important part of the film. Ireland was one of the stars really.
I found a purity in Isolde. She is so passionate and in touch with Mother Nature. She is part of the royal family in Ireland and she is desperate for her freedom. One day she finds a man washed up on the beach, he has been shipwrecked and she falls in love at first sight. She is in madly in love with Tristan from the start and I think the next best thing to falling in love in real life is to play ‘falling in love’, so it was wonderful. I am a sucker for a good love story.
I can identify with her in one area. She’s very headstrong, Isolde: she’s very set on living her life as she wants to do it. I think I’ve always been like that. I wouldn’t say I’ve been a rebel, but I think I was determined to find my own way. As soon as I started acting I totally fell in love with it and no one could tell me different – it was a complete love affair.
I think casting Rufus Sewell was fantastic, because he is so attractive and such a good actor so it adds a real frisson. It would not have worked to have an unattractive Marke, because this is a love triangle. I am married to Marke but desperate to be with Tristan. A lot of people in fact have said to me, ‘why didn’t you just stick with Rufus? He’s so gorgeous.’ And that is what makes it interesting. Isolde really likes and respects Marke. Having two striking, charismatic men was important. For my character to be stuck in the middle of those two, makes the story more real because you can totally understand her dilemma. There is such a strong love between Tristan and me. Isolde comes from a very structured upbringing and he comes from a lifestyle in which he has had no structure, he spent his whole life fighting. So they are yin and yang as it were and fit together perfectly. She is never in love with Marke, but there is a fine line. She cannot hate him, understandably, because he is a beautiful man with a great heart and a good soul.
The scene in which we push a boat out into the water. It was absolutely freezing. We were on a beach in the middle of nowhere and it took us all day. When James and I came out of the water after each take, there was nothing else to do but shiver. There was no time to get dry so we were cold and wet. I had a wet suit on up to my waist and that day was terrible I must admit, I wanted to quit the industry. I thought ‘what am I doing this for?’ It was tough physically. We were faced with the elements, it was so cold that sometimes it was hard to get the words out and talk at all. My brain felt as though it was freezing. I have never known cold like that in my life.
The last few jobs I’ve done I’ve got to play a girl stuck in between two guys. It happened in Colditz with Damian Lewis and Tom Hardy, in Art School Confidential with Max Minghella and Matt Keeslar, and now in this one with James and Rufus. I’m not going to complain!