In my never-ending search for things to read, I remember stumbling upon the story of the Green Knight, something I didn’t end up reading till after a dear friend kindly retold me the poem in her own words. The story prompted me to check out some of the available incarnations of the famed poem, penned by an unknown contemporary of the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer.
My favourite version of the story outside of the poem would have to be J. R. R. Tolkien’s modernization of the tale, which gives readers the most accessible and well-realized version of the story, or that would have been the case if not for A24’s adaptation.
Directed by David Lowery, which some may remember from 2018’s A Ghost Story, The Green Knight manages to capture the same artful and sombre mood found in Lowery’s previous work while bringing its own unique medieval flair that manages to toe the line between the surrealist imagery found in other A24 films with imagery found in the pages of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. For those jumping into The Green Knight blind, the movie follows the exploits of Gawain (Dev Patel), a distant and borderline ostracized relative of King Arthur (Sean Harris), that is until the famed King realizes the errors of his ways and earnestly extends his hand to young Gawain.
After some short exposition explaining Gawains’ relation to the King and after audiences get to witness his rather unkempt and unknightly lifestyle, like the poem, the focus of the film shifts to Christmas celebrations at the round table. Just as Gawain is invited to sit next to the King, the mysterious and titular Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) breaks the festivities with his otherwordly presence, issuing a challenge to anyone brave enough to accept.
A24’s take on the Green Knight from an aesthetics standpoint is an excellent balancing act between fantasy and realism. Forgoing a garish or ghoulish green colour palette while instead favouring a more restrained, earthly-hued set of armour, the Green knight’s garbs ties eloquently into the notion of decay and nature, a theme the film explores heavily throughout its runtime.
“David Lowery does an excellent job in drawing enough from the source material while adding and fleshing out the world of Camelot without taking away or tarnishing the story of the Green Knight. “
The mysterious stranger brandishing a large axe with a face akin to rotten wood challenges anyone brave enough to chop off his head, which Gawain accepts to provide the King with a story and proof of his courage. Upon his success, the Green Knight, seemingly immortal, picks up his severed head and demands Gawain to fulfil the game come next Christmas if he can make the journey to the green chapel in which he will wait for him to return the favour. The above, in essence, sets up the impetus of the movie, Gawain, who had lived a lowly life not fit that of royalty, must cease his chance at glory through an act of pure bravery by meeting with the Green Knight, reciprocating the damage done to him and thus returning a hero.
David Lowery does an excellent job in drawing enough from the source material while adding and fleshing out the world of Camelot without taking away or tarnishing the story of the Green Knight. An example of this includes a scene in which, after overcoming a near-death experience while on his way to contest the Green Knight, Dev Patel’s character is seen finding refuge in an abandoned house. He soon discovers the house is haunted by a young girl that lost her head to the same axe Gawain took from the Green knight. Without delving into spoilers, this scene and many like it, weave a strong narrative that better connects and roots Gawain with his immortal adversary and the world itself.
The rest of the film follows the events of the poem while introducing some genuinely mesmerizing scenes that play with both Gawain and the audience’s sense of reality, ultimately making the film’s conclusion that much more visceral and exciting.
The Green Knight surprised me for managing to be faithful to its source material while still feeling fresh and eclectic in its delivery, from both its diverse cast of characters to the often surreal and ethereal imagery that takes up the two hour and five-minute runtime of the film.
David Lowery’s take on the Green Knight is a movie that should not be missed by both fans of the classic English alliterative poem or to those just looking for a unique and darkly take on a coming of age story set in the background of classic English fantasy, punctuated by A24’s unique approach to cinema.