Friday, October 13, 2006

Tristan & Isolde

The recent film version of Tristan & Isolde (T&I) didn't really seem to have much in the way of publicity, but I heard slightly favourable things about it so watched the DVD. In a way, it serves as an antidote to 2004's lumbering King Arthur, particularly as they are both set in Post Roman Britain. Whilst the material culture is off the mark in T&I there are some really interesting concepts introduced. The Irish are shown to be the attacking Britain. A big round of applause. The Irish were raiding the west coast of Britian, whilst the Jutes, Anglians and Saxons were niggling away in the east. In the film, the Irish are painted as the baddies, actively trying to cause the break up of any sort of alliances that the British are trying to make amongst themselves.

After the heavy-handed anti-English sentiment in King Arthur, it's great to see some Jutes and Anglians included in British alliances in T&I. Actually it's close to mind-boggling. Some of the complexitites of the era are at least being hinted at, even if they aren't being fully explored. It gives me hope that at some point before I pop me clogs I might see a decent film about the 5th-6th centuries.

However, all is not sunshine with T&I. As I mentioned, the clothing, artefacts and the architecture are completely to pot. And there seems to be some confusion between the usage of 'British' and 'English'. I might also pick at the idea of the Anglians being in charge of York so early. And the story is a bit dodgy as well. The writers have clearly taken their own line with the legend, and that's fine by me. King Marke is seen as a good chap, which makes a change. But the method of story-telling ensures that this is a very down-beat, if not poe-faced, film to watch. Of course it is a very sad, doomed, tale, but there are ways of lightening the tone in scenes that don't need to be gloomy. More camaraderie between the characters might have helped. There were plenty of scenes with butch warriors that could have been turned into jokey blokiness, for example. The leads could also have been a bit more mischievous with one another on occasion as well.

But, overall, T&I scores highly for me in that it attempted to show some of the more difficult areas of the Dark Ages. It didn't fall to easy Hollywood stereotypes. It was more subtle than that. It tried to bite the bullet, so bravo. So for me, T&I holds the laurels for the best Dark Age film.

10 Comments:

At 3:34 pm BST, Blogger Carla said...

Hey, that actually sounds quite good! I hadn't even heard of it. It is a nice change to see the existence of Anglian/Brittonic alliances recognised for once, instead of the usual monoethnic struggle approach. The idea of a centuries-long war with all the English on one side and all the British/Celts on the other is so modern that it always leaves me baffled - it doesn't fit with the picture in Bede (Catwallaun in alliance with Penda; Northumbria and Mercia as bitter enemies; Northumbria against the West Saxons; Bernicia against Deira), or the Arthurian tradition (Arthur's greatest enemy was Medraut, not the English), or the story of Urien's assassination in Nennius, or the marriage between Oswy of Northumbria and Rhianmellt of Rheged, or the tradition (also Nennius, and referred to obliquely by Bede) that Aethelferth of Bernicia was married to a Brittonic wife, Bebba (who gave her name to Bebbanburgh, Bamburgh, and was presumably therefore of considerable importance), or with the archaeology from places like Yeavering. I could go on. And on. I suppose Gildas' view chimed in rather nicely with the Victorian world view and so became accepted.
What's the supposed date for the film? If I remember correctly, tradition makes Peredur the last king of Brittonic York and say he was killed at Caer Greu (unidentified) in 580, which also puts him in more or less the right generation in the genealogies. My guess is that the Deiran royal house bagged York after Peredur's death, though I think it quite likely they may have been allied with Peredur's house much earlier. I could certainly accept Anglian York from 580 onwards, and I could accept them being important allies there (though not in charge, unless one wants to make them the power behind Peredur's throne) much earlier.

 
At 4:38 pm BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

There's not a huge amount on the inter-British alliances, but enough to make it clear the Anglo-Saxons are around and part of the British scene. At this point, the film won me over. It aint perfect by a long chalk, but it's going in broadly the right direction.

I don't remember any specific dates being mentioned (I tend to dismiss them anyway, particularly where films are concerned) but it just says: the Romans have gone, or some such. There is no Arthur mention; if anything King Marke is an Arthur-like figure. I was just being ultra-picky over York :-)

Yes: regarding Medraut. I keep it in mind, and it ensures I keep the in-fighting to the fore. There's a lot of Anglian/British contact up north, again under-estimated. T&I has take a small, tentative step in the right direction.

 
At 7:46 pm BST, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Lol Carla,
that time looks like a great mess to set novels in.

 
At 1:56 pm BST, Blogger Martyn said...

Really interesting post to an interested layman like myself and Carla's response. The contemporary Welsh term for York is Caer Effrog, not sure if that's at all etymologically related to Caer Greu. I always remember being taught at primary school that in Lincolnshire there was a deal of co-operation and interaction between the incoming Germanics and the locals. There was nothing particularly new about people arriving up the Humber from the continent, it was just a fact of life and people lived with it and adjusted accordingly.
Just prior to popping over here I was reading this article which is kind of related :

http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=7817

I find the whole period confusing but fascinating. I really dislike a lot of the nationalist readings you get of that period which always seem really partial in their explanations of our origins. I'm going to check out the film.

 
At 2:06 pm BST, Blogger Martyn said...

Just checking my Welsh dictionary that should be 'Efrog' rather than 'Effrog' :-)

 
At 3:37 pm BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

There's a part of Lincolnshire that's called New Holland, for starters :-) Lincolnshire is Anglian-central in the late 5th-6th centuries. Or should I say, there's a lot of recognisable Germanic material culture, but what *people* counted themselves as, I couldn't possibly say!

The idea of the mass slaughter of the British makes no sense whatsoever. The ruling elite, who would have fought to retain their lands, may have come in for a hammering, but British-what's-his-face working on the land would have merely seen a change in the upper hierarchy and not really noticed the difference. Note I'm not even saying that the landholder would definitely have been Germanic speaking ... (Cue the Medraut effect)

We are a mongrel nation, without a doubt, so rabid nationalism (from any country in the UK) does not wash with me.

That's a good article, btw, Martyn.

 
At 7:00 pm BST, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

We are a mongrel nation, without a doubt, so rabid nationalism (from any country in the UK) does not wash with me.

Same with the 'purity of the English language'. What's pure in that mix of Saxon, Norman, Latin and Celtic, spiced with some Norse? *grin*

 
At 9:14 pm BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

I agree with you, Gabriele. There's no such thing as the 'pure' English - you only have to live here to know it. There are lots of regional variations, not just in accent. For example, one of the swear words I use just isn't used in in Yorkshire or indeed generally in the north. And as for snickets, snickleways - sorry, they're alleys to me. I was brought up in the south, ta ;-) I will say snickets/snickelways though, as that's what the locals use.

Recently, I had to enquire where the 'loos' were in a small Yorkshire town, and the person didn't know what I was asking for. I then said 'Public Conveniences.' She still looked baffled. When I said 'Toilet' it clicked with her. So I guess 'loo' is also rather southern too.

And then of course there's UK English and US English ...

 
At 2:04 pm BST, Blogger Martyn said...

I think snickleways is a really local word to York. Most of Yorkshire uses 'ginnel'. South Yorks and the North Midlands use 'gitty'. There's all kinds of words in the old West Riding for all the different kinds of alley you get there. It's a bit like the eskimos and all their words for snow ;-)

Rach still finds it funny that big blokes in Sheffield happily call each other 'flower' and 'love' in the street. Cornwall tops the league however with straight men having no qualms about referring to each other as 'my lover' !

 
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