The Green Knight, 2021.
Directed by David Lowery.
Starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Sarita Choudhury, Ralph Ineson.
King Arthur’s nephew embarks on an epic quest to confront the Green Knight, an otherworldly creature who appears at Camelot.
A good trailer that does what it’s supposed to, instead of spoiling plot points from the movie it’s potentially trying to promote, has become something of a rarity. The trailers for The Green Knight achieved just that. Its teaser trailer did what it was supposed to – it ‘teased’ audiences just enough to get their attention and arouse people’s curiosity regarding the project. Packed with mysterious symbolism, arresting imagery, disorienting music and atmospheric visuals this one-and-a-half-minute trailer which debuted in February 2020 had me itching to see the final product in all its glory. But alas, it was not to be, as the original release date was pushed back by one whole year to July 2021. But now that I’ve seen it, I can honestly testify that this film is bona fide cinematic poetry, and then some.
Our tale begins on Christmas morn, as Gawain (Dev Patel) the roguishly handsome yet vice-ridden nephew of King Arthur, is hastily awoken in a brothel by his sultry lover Essel (Alicia Vikander) who reminds him playfully regarding his duties as a knight. Returning to Camelot where he receives a strong reprimand from his mother Morgan le Fey (Sarita Choudhury) the sullen Gawain attends a feast at the Round Table where his uncle, the wizened King Arthur (Sean Harris), invites him to recant a ‘tale’ for those gathered at his court. When Gawain responds that he does not have such a tale, Queen Guinevere (Kate Dickie) cryptically responds “Not yet”. It’s then that the villainous axe-wielding Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) makes his dramatic entrance on horseback, and puts forth a chilling challenge: Any knight who lands a blow on my neck, shall win the green axe. But, that very knight must travel to the Green Chapel the following Christmas to receive an equal blow in return.
The young Gawain meets this other-worldly beings challenge sword in hand, but the Green Knight deceptively does not do battle. Instead, he purposefully kneels and lowers his head so that Gawain could land the killing blow. Following the decapitation, the now headless Green Knight rises and gleefully bags his noggin and rides off the castle cackling; but not ‘fore reminding all present of the agreement Gawain and he made. The year ahead melts away swiftly and before long it is Christmastime once again in Camelot. Gawain feels the walls closing in just a bit tighter as he is reminded by Arthur of the unfulfilled task at hand- the young lad must keep his end of the bargain and venture to the Green Chapel. With a heavy heart Gawain then embarks on the perilous quest of besting the Green Knight whilst facing the many challenges that would beset his journey.
A modern retelling of the 14th Century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, this adaptation directed and penned by David Lowery will certainly not appeal to everyone. But for film enthusiasts bellyaching for something special, this will be akin to a sumptuous Christmas feast come early. The stunning visuals are simply jaw-droppingly to behold with every frame dripping with atmosphere, and sepulchral beauty. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo simply kills it here, and I hope this uber-talented DOP will get his due recognition come awards season. Composer Daniel Hart who’s been collaborating with Lowery on all his efforts to date, conjures a dissonant yet haunting score amalgamating folk and medieval musical elements, which fits the film’s tone like a proverbial glove.
The performances across the board are pitch-perfect but Dev Patel’s turn as the conflicted Gawain is the clear standout. Patel’s character values honour and chivalry above all else, but this gets tested repeatedly through the course of his laborious trek to the Green Chapel. Starting off as a tortured, insecure individual Gawain ultimately metamorphoses into a better version of himself by the film’s conclusion, and Patel’s captivating performance realistically captures this tumultuous character arc. The alluring Alicia Vikander excels admirably at both roles she’s inhabiting in the movie, as the devoted Essel and the duplicitous Lady of the castle, two sides of the same coin that exert a tremendous influence on Gawain’s destiny. The gravelly voiced Ralph Ineson also brings an appropriately intimidating screen-presence as the titular Green Knight, the cause of our unproven hero’s unfortunate predicament.
The Green Knight is an enthralling morality tale possessing a profound lyrical beauty that is all its own. It is an intoxicating brew of wild fantasy and high-art that will stupefy your senses, leaving you lucid dazed under its hallucinatory spell.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.