Dev Patel excels as King Arthurs nephew, Gawain the knight, who is on a journey that will put his name in folklore forever.
The Green Knight has been long awaited by the masses (especially by me) and just to keep you guessing even more, its very limited release in cinemas and its staggered release on streaming services has made this film hard to come by. With that being said, I managed to watch and experience this retelling of a folklore legend, and it was nothing like I expected it to be. It wasn’t a medieval hack and slash, in fact, there was little violence at all, it had a dark, almost psychological horror feel to it, which was so unexpected but very welcomed.
To supply it with that eerie feel, it was aided by an intensely sharp score that was very uncomfortable on my delicate ears. The score was fantastic though – whipped up by frequent collaborator Daniel Hart – creating a creepy atmosphere throughout; very gothic and mysterious.
Director David Lowery – who also wrote, edited, and produced – clearly had a unique vision to project on to the screen, there is no need to follow the trend that the Robin Hood or King Arthur films of old have already succeeded at doing. I can respect the sheer creativeness of it; the cinematography (something it was highly praised for) by Andrew Droz Palermo was of the highest level. It had a mystical element to it, this visual art was a pleasure to experience, as well as being very intense, covering a lot of feelings of angst throughout.
The main man in the film though is Dev Patel, he is brilliant and encompasses what the story and the character are about. To begin with, he is the cocky young would be knight who sets out to prove himself, slowly turning into a scared man, plagued by temptations and a lack of courage. A very mature performance indeed. As well as that, casting a man of Indian heritage in such an Anglo heavy folklore story was a unique choice that won’t appease everyone, but Patel smashed it out of the park, so who is to say it is the wrong choice?
The story begins with Gawain sitting on the throne in darkness, with a burning crown upon his head, quite the powerful image and an inkling of things to come. During a meal at the round table during the festive period – Gawain has been asked by his uncle King Arthur (Sean Harris) to sit by his side – the mystical Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) interrupts the celebrations and challenges any knight to a fight, and if they can land a blow they will win his infamous green axe, but they must then travel to his homeland a year later to receive an equal blow – the mightiest test of courage. Gawain takes up the challenge, leading The Green Knight to surrender and lower his head so he can be decapitated. Gawain – who thinks chopping off the knight’s head would be the end of it (well, wouldn’t you?) – watches the knight rise and remind him of the deal, before retreating – head in hand – back to his homeland.
Fast forward a year, and Gawain’s reputation as a fierce warrior has grown tenfold, but the time has come where he must travel to The Green Knights home and face him once again. Gawain must travel across a bleak England landscape (I didn’t think it could get any worse) where he will meet a whole host of interesting and untrustworthy characters on the fateful path. Characters such as the tricky scavenger (Barry Keoghan), the ghost Winifred (Erin Kellyman), the Lord and his wife (Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander) the latter of whom Gawain has surely met before. Along with these characters comes small tasks of courage, temptation, and honesty, all of which are to test Gawain for the finale.
It really is more than a retelling; it is unique in that it is a test of a mans will, does he have the honour to achieve what he believes he should be? Gawain seems hopeful of external forces somehow helping him on his dark path of discovery. Anything to stop him from a little hard work – kids in those days.
The Green Knight is a fabulous fantasy epic without the action (which will put many bloodthirsty people off), how rare is that? It is driven by an intense and a relatable story of personal discovery – the lessons being taught are older than the story itself – with everyday tests and temptations magnified tenfold in mystical circumstances.
With all its good qualities, it still wasn’t perfect; the pacing felt very slow and kind of ambled around for a while. I haven’t read the original story, so I cannot comment on comparisons, but I guess this was all purposeful, to focus on the exploration of its themes instead of straight violence like so many previous Arthurian period films.
It was something I wasn’t expecting at all; surprised by its mysticism, and how thought provoking it really was. It is an experience rather than a storytelling, the fact it didn’t fall into the trap like so many others was so refreshing and its individuality is something to be revered.