A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this film includes several fierce medieval battle scenes, featuring swords, mallets, spears, knives, and arrows, and resulting in dead and bloody/wounded bodies. The young lovers appear in various states of undress and throes of passion (kissing, embracing, hiding from authorities); in one scene, two women strip to lie next to the naked, just washed-ashore Tristan in order to warm him. The young lovers engage in an adulterous affair after she is married. Characters drink during party scenes.
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What's the story?
Orphaned during an Irish raid, Tristan (James Franco) is raised by his uncle, Lord Marke of Cornwall (Rufus Sewell), who tries to unite the British tribes against their would-be Irish conquerors. Wounded during battle, Tristan is believed dead and set adrift on a burning bier. He washes up in Ireland, where he's nursed by the daughter of King Donnchadh (David Patrick O'Hara), the rambunctious Isolde (Sophia Myles). She keeps her own identity secret as they fall in love. When Tristan's compatriots come hunting for him, she sends him off with a kiss and lament that "This cannot be." But as soon as Tristan returns home, Donnchadh decides to give away his daughter to the winner of a contest among the British tribesmen, hoping to divide them in the process. When Tristan wins her for Marke, she's horrified to learn her husband is not Tristan, just as he's horrified to learn she is the princess. After the marriage, Tristan dissolves in depression, until they begin to tryst in secret.
Is it any good?
Focused on loyal knights and proud royals, forbidden passions and tragic fates, TRISTAN & ISOLDE is a disappointingly wan romance. The film shows their love as a series of soft-focus embraces and seductive glances across crowded rooms, like they're teenagers on The O.C. Such soapy structure and conflicting allegiances only make the medieval setting gloomier.
Franco suffers exceedingly: another pretty young actor who has appeared in several films and hasn't yet found a defining role, he's hardly helped by the lack of voltage with Myles. If Tristan is inexplicably addicted to the girl, the effects of his desire are conveniently lacking when he's called on to swash and buckle in defense of Marke. And then, well, it's back to swooning, his dark eyes timeworn emblems of adolescent love gone wrong.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the characters' efforts to balance desire and duty. How do the young people deal with losing parents (Tristan loses both; Isolde's mother is absent), or seek moral ground while living during wartime? How does the film follow the well-known legend that serves as its source?
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