The Green Knight (Cert 15)
Theatrical/VOD (Distributor: A24/Amazon Prime) Running Time: 130 minutes approx.
Release Date – September 24th
It might be obtuse to say but the Medieval film has been somewhat ruined by Monty Python & The Holy Grail hilarious deconstruction the genre; one has never been able to see brave knights on a mission in the same light ever again. Director David Lowrey tries to reclaim it with this extravagant adaptation of a classic 14th century poem.
Christmas day and Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) attends a festive banquet at Camelot held by his uncle King Arthur (Sean Harris) with his Knights of his Round Table. Meanwhile, his mother Morgan le Fay (Sarita Choudhury) performs a magic ritual summoning a Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) to interrupt the banquet. Via a letter read by a possessed Queen Guinevere (Kate Dickie), a challenge is laid down to any knight to strike down the Green Knight and receive his axe as a reward.
However, in return the victor must meet the Green Knight the following year and receive a retaliatory strike from him. Gawain volunteers, using Arthur’s sword Excalibur to slice the Knight’s head clean off, though he still lives. A year passes and Gawain must now keep his end of the bargain, but his journey to the Green Chapel is fraught with danger and peculiar events.
The original poem Sir Gawain and The Green Knight has no known author, allowing Lowrey to take some liberties with the story and add his own esoteric embellishments to it. Epic in presentation and ambitious on a scale, The Green Knight straddles the line between Tolkien-lite fantasy and medieval folklore that may indeed offset the anarchy of Python, if you can get past the talking fox and tree man antagonist of course.
Lowrey seems to have insinuated a lot of his own personal issues into the story, such as Morgan le Fay being Gawain’s mother as well as Arthur’s step-sister, which Lowrey admitted was based on his own relationship with his mother, along with its established themes of being a true and honourable person in life and not earn respect and success, and don’t expect to be handed them.
Gawain’s journey is based around him being a young man living a charmed life, by dint of which means his future as ruler of Camelot is mapped out for him. Yet, he hardly acts like a noble man – his secret girlfriend Essel (Alicia Vikander) is a common woman and they spend most of their time meeting at a brothel. His mother suspects something is awry but doesn’t know what, summoning the Green Knight is to teach him a lesson.
Obviously, Christmas party games have progressed over the centuries – in the modern world, someone being off their head is usually alcohol related and not via decapitation. Gawain isn’t yet a Knight of the Round Table, and dealing with this timber made intruder seems like a good opportunity to earn his stripes. However, he also hoped that the part about the receipt would be forgotten, which, to his chagrin, wasn’t.
Pampered Gawain heads off with the Green Knight’s axe and a green girdle made by his mother to ward off danger, but soon runs into a group of scavengers who rob him of everything, including his horse, weapons, and the girdle. After continuing through the forest on foot, Gawain happens upon the home of a young woman named Winifred (Erin Kellyman) who needs help finding her head, despite not actually being headless.
Shortly after, a fox follows Gawain around, proving a helpful escort. The film’s pacing is already slow but it grinds to a halt when Gawain and his vulpine companion arrive at the castle of Lord (Joel Edgerton), Lady (Vikander again), and an older blind woman (Helena Browne). Admittedly, this section lost me from being so slow and quiet; the cast were whispering their lines and little story progression seemed to be made until the end.
As we have already established, this is a unique interpretation of this Arthurian legend, exemplified by the final act, a mind bending, visual cacophony as Gawain faces what is either his fate or redemption. Lowrey already has us eating out of his hand and this is where he force-feeds us the last mouthful, ignoring the over spilling morsels, yet we are still not full or feel like throwing up.
Forgive the grim analogy but this sums out Lowrey’s approach to storytelling, be it visual or narratively – he presents us with a platter of rich comestibles to devour, but only what he wants to give us. Fortunately, there is an interesting dichotomy at play in that if the story gets confusing the visuals carry the scene and vice versa, making this a palatable experience for most. I say “most” – whilst not quite arthouse in its density, Lowrey is not specifically aiming this at multiplex audiences either.
Whether the narrative grabs you or not, what can’t be denied is the sheer beauty of the imagery. Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo presents arguably one of the most stunning looking films of the year, each frame a wondrously composed tableau of sheer immersive magic, whilst the texture of this mythical world permeates through the screen without layers of CGI enhancements, it is all through the camera.
Dev Patel surprised everyone when playing David Copperfield, and essaying Gawain is another challenge faced head on with success. As the only character afforded any development, Patel is required to react to the emotions of others in charting Gawain’s, yet he remains an oddly distant protagonist at times. A strong support cast gives life to the periphery around Gawain, providing light to his dark or dark to his light.
Unlike other medieval movies in terms of aesthetic and narrative approach, The Green Knight rests on the boldness of its modern ideas and idiosyncratic presentation – you’ll either get it or you won’t. It is not a typical swashbuckling affair but is still an epic journey; as a cinematic experience, it is a cornucopia of artistic expression without the pretension.
Rating – ****
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