David Lowery’s newest film seeks to adapt a 600-year-old poem that tells the tale of Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, and a quest of honor he must undertake. With a few changes, The Green Knight does an amazing job of bringing that classic chivalric tale to theaters.
It’s spooky, adventurous, enchanting, unnerving, and everything in between. It is a fantasy movie, unabashed in its tropes and feel. It does not have the unnecessary modern winks and nudges that so many other contemporary films seem to find necessary — as if they’re embarrassed by their subject manner, “No, no, we’re not into all this sword and magic nonsense, we’re all cool right?”. The Green Knight is unashamed of its medieval lineage, and it shows it right from the title credits as it lays it all out. “A film adaptation of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight by anonymous.”
For those who care about the changes from the source material, there are few but they are mighty. Here Gawain (Dev Patel) is not a knight, not yet. He’s Arthur’s (Sean Harris) nephew (Gawain’s mom is now Morgan le Fay [Sarita Choudhury]) a noble but he has no stories to his name, not yet. Similarly, the quest is bulked up and the nature of the Green Knight is tweaked. These seemingly small changes of course have a much larger impact on what the film is trying to say but it doesn’t detract from the tale, at least to an unfamiliar eye (I am no medieval scholar), it instead reaffirms and supports a compelling message of power, greatness, goodness, honor, traditions and more.
As for the cast – just wow! You couldn’t ask for a better group to perform and speak these messages.
Dev Patel is absolutely perfect as Gawain, charming and dreaming of becoming someone worth telling stories of, to have honor, and to be great. It’s a character the audience can relate to as he tries and struggles for greatness, falters along the path but pushes onward.
The supporting cast is equally stacked. Alicia Vikander does double duty as Gawain’s love interest Essel and The Lady. Sean Harris is a very Jesus-looking King Arthur who also the most mortal version of the character — certainly more so than the last King Arthur. Joel Edgerton appears as The Lord, a key character to the Green Knight poem. Barry Keoghan appears for a middle stint as an unnerving scavenger, imparting his scene with electricity.
Those are just a few, but really everyone here is doing their best work.
But yes, this is now a Dev Patel Stan site.
The movie looks magnificent and the camerawork imbues each shot with the fantastic, Andrew Droz Palermo is putting in absolute work. The art and production teams all deserve attention for the gorgeous costumes, arms and armor, and architecture. A lesser movie could simply reuse assets from another previous period piece (how many movies have we seen using old leftover Game of Thrones gear, or from Starz’ Spartacus?) but here the costumes have such unique textures and aesthetics that it is a true delight to see every gorgeous frame. All of that work together makes even the most simple of scenes — Gawain riding on horseback away from Camelot, for instance — eerily beautiful.
I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Lowery’s work, he’s been a hit or miss for me — but here he has cemented himself as a director and storyteller to watch.
– Spoilers Ahead for the Film And Poem –
It’s kind of a marvel that you can see this movie knowing what should happen in it – knowing the legend, and still get so sucked into the tale. The last half hour especially has you on the edge of your seat wondering just how will this all resolve?
The poem, of course, ends with Gawain getting a knick on the neck from the Green Knight thanks to his magical green sash, the other Knights of the Round Table laughing it off, and all adopting green sashes of their own as a reminder. To be honest, it sort of sounds like an episode of G.I. Joe or something.
Lowery’s The Green Knight takes us through an incredible possible future, a vision of Gawain’s if he returns to Camelot escaping from the Green Knight and reneging on his vow. It’s so complete that you fear This isn’t how this is supposed to go! When it finally snaps back to Gawain under the Knight’s axe you exhale a sigh of relief, Yes, you think, he can make the right choice! which has us rooting for Gawain’s presumed death – because that’s what’s honorable.
The movie cuts before the blow is landed — fans of the poem know of course that he gets off without a scratch thanks to the sash but here without it does the Green Knight land his killing stroke? Does he pull back at the last minute to judge Gawain worthy? Does it matter?
The Green Knight is now out in theaters.