The Green Knight (2021) is a fantasy adventure drama film that was written, co-produced and directed by David Lowery. It stars Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, Sarita Choudhury and Ralph Ineson.
The Green Knight is based on the 14th Century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which recounts the Arthurian legend of Sir Gawain, a knight of the round table and King Arthur’s nephew. While celebrating New Year’s Eve at Arthur’s court, the party is interrupted by the mysterious Green Knight who offers to play a friendly game – anyone who is brave enough to try can strike a blow at the intruder, but will they will then have to wait a year and a day to seek out the Green Knight and have the same done to them in return.
When all of Arthur’s Knights hesitate to accept the challenge, brave Sir Gawain accepts it and promptly lops of the mysterious visitor’s head. However, the Green Knight, unphased, strides over to his freshly decapitated head and picks it up, telling Gawain he will see him again in a years time. So Gawain spends the year contemplating his lot before eventually setting off to seek out the Green Knight in order to finish the game.
The poem is old, densely populated with folklore, religious undercurrents and thematic philosophies and subtexts. It has been studied widely for hundreds of years, causing many a boffin and scholar to debate over the hidden meanings, archaic semantics, historical symbology etc. and in short, this is no lightweight subject matter. In fact, it is, in my opinion, quite the opposite and possibly one of the densest and weighty subjects to undertake and study in regards to ancient English literature and medieval folktales.
The film is fairly faithful to the original source material, although it does veer off in some alternative directions here and there. However, it’s safe to say that The Green Knight is a pretty accurate adaptation of the poem, particularly in its themes of chivalry, heroism, temptation and bravery.
Gawain is portrayed as a bit of a lad, chasing women, enjoying a few beers with the boys, getting into drunken brawls and not really taking anything in life too seriously. That is until the Green Knight shows up at Christmas (not New Year like the poem) and decides to play his little beheading game. Once the Green Knight departs, Gawain is left to get on with his life, but the year passes quickly, and before long, he must set off on his quest to seek out The Green Knight.
In the poem, there are allusions to lots of adventures that Gawain experiences on his journey, but none are detailed to any great degree, so the film takes us on a few of these side-quests and does its own thing. He gets robbed by bandits, helps a dead saint recover her lost head and ends up staying at a castle not far from his final destination. He eventually confronts the Green Knight, and in short, the game is concluded.
The performances by everyone in this film are excellent. Dev Patel is perfect casting as the young Gawain, and Alicia Vikander sizzles in dual roles. Joel Edgerton is also brilliant in his portrayal of the kindly Lord, and Sean Harris gives a memorable performance as the king.
The cinematography in The Green Knight is incredible. Every shot is perfectly framed and composed, evoking ancient painterly imagery and even portraying peculiar techniques such as a camera obscura. The colour palette is rich, seasonal and therefore evolving consistently throughout the film, representing the wide gamut of emotions and themes that arise and undulate both before our eyes and deep down in our subconscious.
This is a rich film, full of hidden gems and mysterious associations. To be honest, it would take a number of screenings to be able to cypher off all of its treasures. Much like the original poem, The Green Knight is steeped in cryptic subtleties and secret symbolization. If you are expecting a rip-roaring, dragon-slaying, hack n’ slash adventure akin to Game of Thrones or something similar, you may be disappointed. But if you are someone who appreciates a well-rendered and intricate riddle that takes its time and makes you do some of the work yourself, you will not fail to be impressed by this overwhelmingly beautiful movie.
Well, that’s our review of The Green Knight!
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