“This is how silly men perish.”
“Or how brave men become great.”
“Why greatness? Why is goodness not enough?”
A slow, beautiful opening that immediately captures your eye. A King sits on the throne, his scepter in hand, as a glow fills the room around him. What is this majestic presence that I have the honor of witnessing? No sooner has the eye of the beholder taken in the beauty of this sight, does the King’s head set ablaze with fire. You’re struck with awe and horror. The Green Knight is a fabled world of wonder set during the latter times of King Arthur’s reign—a man famous for pulling the sword from the stone. However, this is not another story of King Arthur’s rise to the throne, no sir.
An adaptation of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” The Green Knight begins on Christmas morning as Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur, has arisen from his sleep in a local brothel. He’s a wild young man, looking for a chance to prove himself. During the Christmas feast, a strong and menacing figure enters the room. The Green Knight is tall, looking as if ripped straight from a dead tree. The Knight challenges anyone in the room to a duel, but the wager is that if his opponent strikes him, his opponent will receive a large green axe. However, there’s a catch. In one year, the knight will come back, only to give the opponent the exact strike in return. Simple enough, right? Gawain, full of eagerness to impress the room—more importantly his uncle—accepts the challenge. The Green Knight takes a knee in front of Gawain, revealing his neck. With one swift blow, Gawain decapitates the Green Knight, believing he has defeated him for good. Horror soon befalls the room, as silence overtakes them.
King Arthur initially warned Gawain that all this was a mere game, but Gawain paid no mind. He should have listened to his uncle. The Green Knight no sooner collects his head and gallops away laughing maniacally. Now, one must wait. Gawain is made a knight and becomes Sir Gawain, and the stories are told around the surrounding villages of Sir Gawain’s bravery. But as the year approaches its end, the stories begin to change—now foreshadowing Sir Gawain’s ensuing death. He must set out to find the Green Knight in his Green Chapel. In doing so, Sir Gawain sets out on an odyssey—full of robbers & scoundrels, a talking fox, a lady’s missing head, and a sexy couple—finding himself in the process.
David Lowery’s The Green Knight is not to be misinterpreted as the next Lord of the Rings, or anything Game of Thrones-ish. The last King Arthur was Guy Ritchie’s retelling that was set to rock music in order to make it feel modern. Personally, I was not a fan, but to each their own. The Green Knight won’t have bouts of action spilling from every scene. In fact, there’s hardly any action at all. This film is vastly slower and more pensive—incredibly introspective. That’s not a dig or slight, in any way. The Green Knight is gorgeous! The pure beauty of the film is witnessing Sir Gawain on his journey. The film transports you immediately into this world of and doesn’t let you go.
Sir Gawain is strong-willed, but in the long run, he’s just finding his way like so many of us. Adversaries or obstructions that find their way onto his path, reveal deeper parts of him, or some are just there to try and manipulate him—much like a metaphor for our own lives. I feel as though I haven’t seen Dev Patel onscreen as of late, or maybe it’s my imagination. However, he’s never struck me in any of his performances. At least maybe since Slumdog Millionaire. His performance here is different. The trials that Sir Gawain is put through shows how much Patel is able to give to this character. At the point when our hero looks as though his journey is cut short, Patel bares his soul, his crushing emotion and vulnerability is left for all to see. But next to Patel is Alicia Vikander who plays his fair maiden throughout the film. But Vikander’s performance is complex, and what I could only assume would be fun, as she plays two different characters in the film. The cast is more than brilliant with the often mischievous and ulterior motives lingering behind their characters interactions. With appearances from Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, and Barry Keoghan, there’s true talent woven within every scene.
The Green Knight is a slow burn, but if you can appreciate that genre, then this film is for you. From the direction, the cast, the costumes, the set design, the score, and most of all cinematography, this film climbed my list and was included as one of my Top Films of 2021. It may not be for some people, but I can’t recommend The Green Knight enough. For any of you who were putting off watching this one, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.
The Green Knight
Directed by: David Lowery
Starring: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, and Barry Keoghan