Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tristan & Isolde

I watched Tristan and Isolde tonight - it was one of the films that came out while I was overseas and I therefore missed. It reminded me immediately of the French Death of King Arthur. A king who favours his greatest knight, rather than his sister-son; a king who is far older than his bride and is struggling to keep united a kingdom against foreign foes; a queen who feels loves passionately but not for a marriage born of political convenience...

I haven't read any of the medieval lays of this tale and my knowledge of the Dark Ages is patchy; I therefore have little idea of any historical accuracies contained within this version of the old tale, nor do I know how it compares with its other versions. However, it is done well enough. It faces the problems that are unique to film rather than to oral tales. The actors are handsome without being overly pretty; they are fairly clean for the time but they do remember to muddy them up occasionally; the accents are less glaringly jarring than can often occur in today's increasingly globalized and americanized film industry.

All in all the film did very well for lightly capturing ideas of warrior kings, of the beginnings of feudalism, of the role of women and of political alliances, and for capturing those ideas important to the romance writers - blood ties, fealty, tournaments and battles, love, passion and a touch of the miraculous/divine providence. One was meant to hear these tales with one's emotions rather than one's intellect (and thus ignore the fact that the Celts, Picts, Saxons etc... all miraculously speak one language only) and unlikely events were expected rather than disparaged.

Watching the film in the midst of my Arthurian Literature paper, I found it interesting the importantance of boats for the romance between Tristan and Isolde. The idea of boats taking the hero to place of testing or where knowledge/experience can be gained that could not otherwise be, is a feature of the old celtic tales. In the Christianized romances boats were sometimes a symbol of the Church, as in The Quest for the Holy Grail, but certainly of adventure (in their concept of that word). I have read in reviews that their means of Tristan and Isolde first meeting is different from other popular versions but it is very much in keeping with genre traditions. I don't think it's meant to represent the Christian Church here but I do think that it can be read as a sign of providence, of divine intervention into the life of the hero.


Post a Comment

<< Home