Tristan (Franco) wins the hand of the Irish princess Isolde (Myles) for his lord and surrogate father, Marke (Sewell), the king of Cornwall. But neither Tristan nor Isolde can overcome their mutual attraction
To the long list of storytellers this ancient tale of star-crossed lovers has inspired, you can now add star-crossed brothers Ridley and Tony Scott (who produce here), and director Kevin Reynolds (previously responsible for Costner in tights and gills). The story is often linked with Arthurian legend, and while the (muted) fanfare trumpeting the film’s arrival looks to Romeo + Juliet, the story is more closely entwined with the love shared by Lancelot and Guinevere.
Just as Arthur suffers his wife’s infidelity, so too Cornwall’s King Marke, here played with much poignancy by Rufus Sewell, as his bride (Sophia Myles) falls for English knight Tristan (James Franco). As with 2004’s feeble King Arthur, Reynolds eschews the magical to ground the story in a more literal medieval world; gone is the love potion of legend.
It is a noble aim, and Reynolds drenches his movie in earthy, muddy tones. Yet the missing elixir demands that Myles and Franco must muster a convincing passion with facial expressions and dialogue alone, and where Myles succeeds, her dilemma heart-wrenchingly clear, Franco fails, relying on the pouty woodenness that blighted his performance in the Spider-Man movies.
By removing the sorcery and operatic excess so synonymous with the story, the filmmakers conjure an affecting, pretty melodrama... with the emphasis more on mellow than drama.