A green knight confidently strides into the court of a king. He puts forth a challenge. Someone needs to face him in combat. But whatever injuries they cause will be returned to them in exactly one year. Step forward Gawain (Dev Patel). The fight is over when Gawain beheads the green knight. No need to wait a year for a return injury if your opponent is dead, obviously. Except there is no death here. Reattaching his head, the green knight reminds his opponent of the terms of their duel, and leaves. The clock is ticking.
Written and directed by David Lowery, taking inspiration from a 14th-century poem entitled “Sir Gawain And The Green Knight”, The Green Knight is a fantastical drama that benefits from sterling central performances and gorgeous cinematography throughout (from Andrew Droz Palermo, who collaborated with Lowry on A Ghost Story). It is loaded and layered with intriguing imagery, in line with both the tone of the film and the main themes, but manages to be both dense and accessible.
Also, and I feel this is important to note here, The Green Knight is cinematic and entertaining for the entire runtime. I say that because I wasn’t sure if it would be, which is why I didn’t get to it sooner. I expected/hoped to enjoy this, but I assumed it would be a film that I would need to then spend more time digging into and contextualising. While there is a bit of “further reading” you can seek out, Lowery puts everything in the film that you need, with every well-considered detail available to piece together into a number of fascinating character studies.
Patel is brilliant in the lead role, happy to show his character in a poor light as he wrestles with situations that allow him to either realise his full potential or find an easier, less courageous, way out. Alicia Vikander plays two roles here, both equally important in different ways, and she is just as good as Patel. And disguised as The Green Knight himself is Ralph Ineson, putting his memorable timbre to great use. There are also enjoyable supporting turns from Sean Harris, Barry Keoghan, Joel Edgerton, and Sarita Choudhury, all playing a crucial part in Gawain’s journey. There’s also a gorgeous bit of VFX work that allows Patel to share the screen with a helpful fox for a number of scenes.
Alternating between moments that are intimate and moments that are epic, this is a film that has clearly been made with a great deal of love and care, and it shows. It could have ended up in any number of final incarnations, but I am glad we got this version. Cinematic, thoughtful, and one that will reward rewatches as much as it rewards patience. Having taken inspiration from a poem, it translates the material into cinematic poetry, to hopefully be appreciated and enthusiastically examined by film fans for many years to come.
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