"In the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde, young lovers become doomed against the forces of royal politics. English knight Tristan wins the hand of the daughter of the Irish King, but the love threatens the truce between their two countries. "

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NOTE: This Spoiler was sent in by April who says... "This movie was really good.  I enjoyed the love story and the guys seemed to enjoy the war aspects, so it will probably make a pretty good date movie.  Still, for those who didn't get the obvious warning in the trailers (Romeo and Juliet), this is not a story with a happy ending."

A prologue is provided for us to familiarize us with the politics of the day.  England has been divided since the fall of the Roman Empire, while Ireland is strong and united.  The Irish have therefore been able to dominate the divided territories of England.

It is with this in mind we begin to watch a young boy, Tristan, hunting a rabbit with his father.  He is successful in his quest, and as they return to their keep, he is eager to hunt larger game.  His father is proud of his success, but obviously takes care to ensure his son is not growing up with too large an ego.  As they return to the village, father reminds son that he must always bring a gift to offer his lady.  As Tristan begins weaving a bracelet of dried flowers to offer his mother, his father speaks with his men regarding the arrival of the leaders of the other English territories.

Tristan’s father is the leader of their territory, Aragon, (I assume later of Katherine of Aragon fame).  He begins addressing his fellow territory leaders, urging them to unite as one kingdom so that they may break the yolk of tyranny that is Ireland.  As they discuss a treaty, said Irish are preparing to invade Aragon.  The attack begins shortly after the treaty is signed.  It is clear that one of the members of the new pact is already a traitor.

During the battle, Tristan is hidden below the main hall.  Long, loud battle scene ensues.  Upon silence, we see Tristan looking up at blood dripping from the trapdoor.  He opens it to find his father dead – it was his father’s blood.  His mother is close by, also dead.  As Tristan reaches for the woven bracelet on his mother’s arm, an Irish soldier rushes him.  Lord Marke, the territory leader Tristan’s father showed the most respect for, steps up and saves Tristan, losing his hand in the process.

Marke returns to his territory with Tristan.  His sister, Edith, rushes up to greet him, heart-broken.  It seems the Irish raided every territory, not only taking advantage of fighting the leaders all in one spot, but also destroying their villages while they were away.  Edith’s husband was among the many men brutally slaughtered by the raiding Irish.  Marke introduces Tristan and makes it clear that Tristan is part of their family now.  When asked by one of his men what they should do about their devastated village, Marke answers decisively, “Rebuild.”

Meanwhile, across the sea, the Irish are mourning the loss of their queen.  Isolde, her daughter, is heartbroken at the loss of her mother.  Her maid, Bragnae, consoles her, telling her mother couldn’t fight the fever that raged her body.  Isolde, wise beyond her years, says it wasn’t the fever, it was her mother’s heart.

Initially Tristan is withdrawn, refusing to join in the swordplay-training that the other children are engaging.  Edith and several of the men express concern to Marke, but he assures them that Tristan has the heart of a lion, and that he just needs time.  It doesn’t take too long, as several little boys taunt Tristan and Edith’s son, Melot, calls Tristan a coward and shoves him around.  Tristan finally reaches his breaking point, and begins fighting back, taking on all of the boys at once.  He wins the respect of his peers that day, and begins his training in earnest.  We see him walking toward Lord Marke, with the boys following him.  As he gets closer, he and his friends are no longer little boys, but young men, clearly trained in the art of war.

Later Tristan, Melot, and their friend Simon explore a hidden tunnel that leads from the basement of their new, well-fortified keep, to an old Roman bridge some distance from the village.  The three young men agree to keep the tunnel a secret only the three of them know.

Across the sea, Isolde’s father is speaking with his second in command.  The king is unhappy with the way things are going in England, especially in Lord Marke’s territory.  He tells his man to go to England to remind them who commands them, and to bring home some slaves.  The man agrees, but asks the king for Isolde’s hand in marriage in return for his years of loyal service.  The king grants his wish, and later informs a very unhappy Isolde of her new engagement.  She spends a few minutes with her new betrothed, who tries to warm her over by sharing that he dips his sword in a poison that will render his opponent paralyzed.  He reminds her of what the antidote is, as she is apparently a local healer and apothecary-type.

The Irish contingent arrives to show their superiority.  They first grab a random young man from the village and hang him to demonstrate what will happen to anyone who doesn’t obey King Donnchadh.  They then round up a dozen or so slaves and lock them in a rolling jail to return with them to Ireland. 

Marke and Tristan devise a plan, which they share with their fellow lords of the various territories.  Rather than an outright attack on the large Irish army, Tristan has two very fast young men shoot a few arrows into the heart of their procession and run away.  As expected, about half the solders follow the men.  The men run impressively, outrunning the Irish soldiers on horseback for quite a little distance.  Just as the soldiers are about to reach the men and run them through with swords, Tristan and his men come up from their hiding places in the ground and destroy the half of the Irish Army that had been chasing the two men.  They take the Irish’s horses and cover themselves so that the other half can’t tell who is coming up.  They wave a head from a distance (one of the Irish soldiers), which relaxes the remaining soldiers long enough for Tristan, his men on horseback, and more men who had been hidden near the convoy to attack.  The battle is fierce, and the King’s second in command begins running his sword through the bars of the slave carriage.  Tristan sees this and begins attacking the man to save the slaves.  He manages to save the slaves and kill the king’s man, but the man managed to get a small cut to Tristan’s midsection with his poisoned sword.

The battle ends with most of the Irish dead or wounded, and few of the English killed.  However, Simon, Tristan and Melot’s friend, is among the mortally wounded.  They gather around their friend and comfort him as he dies.  Soon after, Tristan collapses and his men realize that he has been poisoned.  They give him a king’s funeral, which includes sending his body out to sea on a special boat.  As it leaves the harbor and goes to sea, the men shoot flaming arrows toward the boat.  They then execute all but three of the Irish soldiers who didn’t die and send those three back to the Irish king with a message.  The men return to Lord Marke’s keep, happy to inform him of their victory over the Irish.  Marke is devastated that the victory came at the cost of Tristan’s life.

In Ireland, Isolde has decided to run away and she and her maid are walking along the beach.  Bragnae is trying to convince Isolde of the foolishness of her actions when Isolde spots Tristan’s boat on the shore.  She rushes to him and discovers he is alive, but barely.  She and Bragnae drag him to a little secluded hut on the beach that was apparently her mother’s special place, where she begins to heal him.  (Great scene initially with both Isolde and Bragnae getting naked to warm him from his hypothermia; Bragnae is quite discombobulated by this, commenting that “it’s been fifteen years since I’ve been naked with a man” and she’s obviously not comfortable about this).

As Tristan heals, Bragnae warns Isolde not to tell him who she is and not to get close to him.  When Tristan introduces himself, Isolde initially stalls, then gives him a false name, Bronwyn.   A montage of events follows between Isolde and Tristan, including him bathing in the ocean, her feeding him, and them reading poetry together.  Bragnae pointedly mentions Isolde’s betrothed, which cools a tender moment between them.  She leaves them alone, and Tristan follows Isolde out to the beach, where they kiss.  They return to the hut and make love.  Later Isolde returns to the castle and is comforted by Bragnae.

The king discovers Tristan’s funeral boat and begins a search for him.  Isolde rushes to Tristan and tells him to return to England on a boat she’s arranged.  He doesn’t want to leave, but she tells him she would rather that they be apart and she knows he is ok and thinking of her than for him to be killed by her father.  They share a last kiss in the ocean and Tristan returns home.  Tristan’s return is greeted as a miracle by Marke, Edith, and the village, but Marke and Edith soon notice that Tristan is not himself.  They are not aware of the reason for his deep depression, but assume it is merely the near-death experience.

Upon learning of the deaths of his second and the army that went to England, the Irish King decides to offer Isolde as a bride to the English territory lord that wins a tournament he will sponsor.  Along with Isolde as a bride, the winner will also receive a substantial dowry.  The king intends for this to be a divider of the lords, another way for him to keep control over them.  Tristan convinces Lord Marke to send Tristan to fight for Isolde as his bride.  It seems Tristan believes that peace will bring him back to his Bronwyn.  Mark and Tristan send a message to the other lords that regardless of who wins, the man should be made King of all England.  Marke vows that if Tristan does not win, Marke will serve the winner as his King.  This gets the other Lords to follow suite, though one is already in league with the Irish King.

Tristan arrives in Ireland with the other lords.  Bronwyn is being prepared to sit with her father during the tournament.  She covers her face with a veil and her head with a scarf and comments that if she is to be a present, she should be properly wrapped.  Her pique disappears as she sees Tristan among those fighting to win her hand.  After a day of face offs, Tristan is facing the traitorous English lord who is in league with the Irish king.  Tristan wins and Isolde is thrilled.  She rushes to the edge of the stage and removes her veil, proclaiming to Tristan that she is his.  Her father corrects her and informs her Tristan has won her for Lord Marke.  Both Tristan and Isolde are devastated. 

On the journey back to England, Isolde tries to convince Tristan to convince Marke that Tristan should be with her.  Tristan realizes that the alliance between the Irish King and the new English King is more important than the two of them, and tells her she must do her duty.  Isolde sadly does marry Marke, though both she and Tristan act more as if it is a funeral than her wedding day.  During the wedding feast, Isolde once more tries to get Tristan to admit he wants to be with her.  He side steps her question, reminding her of the alliance.  She informs him that she will go to the bedchamber with Lorde Marke, but she will pretend Marke is Tristan.  Tristan spends the wedding night in the forest, grimly watching the light in their window. 

After the wedding, Tristan is clearly devastated, leaving the keep to stay with a friend, and telling Marke that he is planning to leave to travel.  Marke convinces him to stay, after announcing in front of everyone that Tristan will be his second, the leader to take Marke’s place should the need arise.  Melot is distressed, as he felt as Marke’s blood nephew, he should have been second.  Tristan tells Marke the same thing in private, and initially declines the offer.  Marke convinces him that Tristan should take the job by saying that if Tristan isn’t his second, Marke cannot become king.

Soon after, Marke tries to convince Tristan of the joys of marriage, urging him to wed.  He pulls Isolde into the conversation, asking her to convince Tristan to wed.  As Mark holds Isolde in front of him, she gazes into Tristan’s eyes and tells him that without love, life is just empty days, weeks, and years.  Tristan returns her gaze and tells her that she has convinced him, and he will love.  Isolde knows that this is his response to her earlier plea to meet her at the old Roman bridge.  Later they do meet and make love.  They continue to meet there, and occasionally steal kisses in closets in the keep.  One night Lord Marke misses Isolde and her maid stalls him.  As he begins looking for Isolde, Bragnae rushes to Tristan and Isolde and tells them Marke is looking for her.  Tristan shows her the secret tunnel so that she can return to the keep unseen.  They begin using this as their way to meet in secret.

During one of their meetings, Isolde tells Tristan of seeing two lovers in the market holding hands.  She expresses her regret that that can never be them, that all they will have are stolen moments.  Later as Isolde and Marke walk through the market, Tristan weaves a bracelet of dried flowers, much like the one he made for his mother as a boy.  He walks up to Isolde, discretely takes her hand and puts the bracelet on her arm.  He holds her hand between their bodies and those around them seem unaware.  However, the traitorous lord is watching from afar and realizes that Marke’s wife and most trusted man may be the weak link that will defeat the English alliance.

He and the king plot to reveal Tristan and Isolde to Marke in front of the other English lords at Mark’s coronation.  After Tristan is in chains and the other lords see Marke as an ineffective leader, the Irish and the traitor’s armies will attack Marke and defeat the English alliance.  In return, the Irish king promises England to the traitor.  After the traitor leaves, the king assures his men that with the traitor as the king of England, it will be back in Irish control in very short time.

Before the coronation, Marke confides in Tristan that he believes Isolde is having an affair.  Marke shows Tristan the bracelet and asks Tristan to find the man who gave it to her.  Tristan realizes how deeply Marke has come to love Isolde and tells him that Marke shouldn’t worry, because Isolde belongs to Marke.  Tristan destroys the bracelet and burns the area where he and Isolde had been meeting.  She finds this and is unable to understand why.

After the coronation, during the celebration, Isolde begs Tristan to meet her at their spot, telling him she will die if he doesn’t.  He agrees and leaves.  Isolde pleads exhaustion, and leaves to meet him via the tunnel.  The traitor tells the king that rather than announce an accusation of betrayal, he’ll show everyone proof.  He convinces Marke and the other lords to take a traditional full-moon ride and leads them straight to Tristan and Isolde, who have been saying good-bye to each other.  The king says that the alliance is dead, because Marke allowed his lieutenants to share Isolde.  Marke orders Tristan and Isolde to be seized and put in the dungeon.  The traitor convinces a group of fellow lords to rise up against Marke, saying Melot will be their new leader.  Falling for this, Melot shows the Irish king and the traitor the secret tunnel.

Marke confronts Tristan, begging Tristan to explain what Marke failed to do that led Tristan to betray him so.  Marke points out that as they are speaking, his enemies are preparing to attack and that Tristan has effectively destroyed their kingdom.  Tristan refuses to offer excuses, so Marke goes to Isolde and asks her when she first betrayed him.  Isolde says that she’s loved and been with Tristan since Marke thought Tristan was dead.  Mark is stunned as Isolde tells him the whole story.

Tristan is lead, hands bound, to the river, where he finds Isolde and Bragnae waiting with a boat.  The guard unbinds Tristan and says Lord Marke is freeing Tristan and Isolde to be with each other.  As they stand next to the boat, Isolde remarks that this seems so wrong.  Tristan helps Isolde and Bragnae into the boat and shoves it off, telling her that their love should not destroy a kingdom.  He turns to defend his homeland as Isolde cries for him not to go.

The Irish king and his men along with some of the English lords who’ve turned against Marke begin storming the keep.  The traitor and a small band of men make their way through the secret tunnel with Melot, but before reaching the keep, Melot is run through with a sword.  Marke realizes something is wrong when the men storming the keep all stop at the raised drawbridge and wait.  Just then from below the traitor and his little group come through the secret tunnel.

Tristan comes through the tunnel and finds Melot.  Melot admits that he led the traitor to the tunnel and begs Tristan’s forgiveness, especially since Melot realizes that Tristan gave up Isolde to save the kingdom.  Melot then dies in Tristan’s arms.  Tristan rushes on to the keep, into the room where the drawbridge mechanism is that the traitor and his men have been trying to lower.  Tristan storms the room and kills or disables many of the men.  Marke realizes that Tristan is there and on their side and he and his men rush into the room to fight.  Tristan is stabbed in the heart, but manages to kill the traitor and keep the drawbridge up.  As Marke holds Tristan, they realize that despite this small victory, they are about to lose the battle because the men outside greatly outnumber them.  Tristan says they’ll have to be bold.

The drawbridge lowers and the men outside cheer, thinking the traitor has succeeded.  As the drawbridge lowers, Tristan is standing there.  He holds up the head of the traitor and tosses it into the moat.  He tells the English lords with the Irish King that they must decide today who they will follow.  Marke and his men step out and Marke tells his fellow lords that they can choose to kill Marke and his men or the Irish king, but that they must decide because both cannot live.

After a small eternity, someone from the group with the Irish king shoots an arrow into his back and all of the English are once again united to defeat the Irish.  Marke picks up Tristan and carries him to the river, where Isolde has returned.  She sees Tristan and realizes he is dying.  Marke is told that he must return to the battle, as his men need him to finish defeating the Irish.  He leaves Tristan and Isolde alone at the riverbank and joins the fight.  Tristan tells Isolde that she was right, and quotes a poem she read to him when she was healing him in Ireland, basically telling her how much her love means to him.  He dies as she lays her head on his chest and sobs.

They blend into a haze and an epilog tells us that Marke ruled a united England in peace for all of his many days and that Isolde buried Tristan beneath a tree.  (Sorry, I was a little teary at this point and missed some of what was said, but it was beautiful). 

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