Steeped in Arthurian legend, “The Green Knight” is a modern film adaptation of the anonymously-authored “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” hailing from the late 14th century. Despite its old age, the story holds up remarkably well, and with additional help from director David Lowery, the tale is resurrected in all its glory for the enjoyment of the present-day moviegoer.
The film revolves around the adventures of Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s young nephew who has no stories to tell–yet. Surrounded by the grizzled old men who’ve made a name for themselves as Knights of the Round Table, Gawain yearns for a chance to prove his worth in the eyes of the king and the rest of Camelot.
On Christmas Eve, the court of an aging King Arthur is visited by a mysterious guest, who happens to be large, green, and wields a heavy axe. The stranger addresses the court, inviting them to take part in a peculiar Christmas game. The rules are simple: Whoever strikes the Green Knight in hand-to-hand combat must travel to a distant chapel in one year’s time to see the exact same blow returned. Gawain, having everything to prove, accepts the Knight’s challenge and faces him in front of the entire court. Having struck the hulking green figure, Gawain is tasked with seeking out the mystical chapel in order to complete the game. This is the basis for the rest of the film, with Gawain journeying far and wide in search of the Knight’s chapel. Along the way, the road to the chapel is full of trials which test Gawain’s knightly honor and virtue.
This film marks director David Lowery’s second successful collaboration with Indie studio A24, the first being his 2017 feature “A Ghost Story.” If there is one thing Lowery excels in most, it would be creating an immersive atmosphere in his films. In “The Green Knight,” Lowery’s directorial choices build a storybook world that truly feels real. The settings are breathtaking in scope and design, with color used selectively to highlight characters against muted, gloomy backgrounds. Any viewer can tell that Lowery has a great deal of respect for art history as each shot evokes the same religious awe one receives when looking at a 14th-century painting. This visual splendor, combined with the angelic score from Lowery’s frequent collaborator Daniel Hart, culminate in an atmosphere only rivaled by that of Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse.”
Every single performance in the movie is without fault, and many of the cast members have experience in the medieval/fantasy genre. Alicia Vikander, Barry Keoghan, Kate Dickie and Joel Edgerton all make appearances in the film, filling Lowery’s fantastical world with equally interesting characters. Dev Patel shines in the lead role of Gawain, which marks the actor’s first appearance since 2019. Known for being selective with regard to the films he chooses to act in, it seems that this time Patel has chosen wisely. The film’s titular Green Knight is played by Ralph Ineson, who could not have been more perfect for the role. While he receives limited screen time in the film’s 130 minutes, the scenes where Ineson appears are some of the most captivating, with the actor’s deep, gruff voice filling the theater.
Lowery’s bold retelling of this classic Arthurian tale is definitely worth a watch, and with any luck it will garner some accolades this awards season. While the film is a slow-burn, its final scene has spawned a myriad of “The Green Knight Ending Explained” articles on the web–if that says anything.
“The Green Knight” is now showing in theaters nationwide.