I’ve seen more than a few film adaptations of Arthurian lore in my time, and until last night night, none had been able to capture the awe or majesty of the larger-than-life fantasy epics they were inspired by. However, The Green Knight does, and does it so spectacularly, so beautifully, so darkly, that it puts all the others that I have seen to shame. I had been eagerly waiting to see this David Lowery feature since the incredible first trailer dropped, which was almost a year and a half ago, and I’m happy to say that it was worth the wait.
The Green Knight – based on the classic, anonymously-written poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – follows King Arthur’s Nephew, Gawain (Dev Patel). The young man boldly accepts a challenge from the titular, tree-like entity (Ralph Ineson), and after being allowed one chance to strike the bark-bearded being down, Gawain must reunite with the Green Knight one year later to see the same blow returned.
The film’s supporting cast is outstanding, an ensemble of incredible talents, most of whom turn in performances that rank among the best I’ve seen this year. Ineson’s unmistakably deep, gravelly voice fits the Green Knight perfectly, and the costume/make-up applied to him makes the eponymous character seem intimidating and otherworldly in equal measure. Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander are nearly at peak performance here, and the latter delivers a monologue about the color green in what is one of the film’s most encaptivating scenes. I wish that Kate Dickie’s Guinevere had been given one or two more scenes to really shine, but she made the most of her limited presence. Sean Harris portrays an older, more frail King Arthur than I had expected, yet commands the screen the same way the fabled King would the devotion of his Round Table. Sarita Choudhry and Barry Keoghan are also terrific as Arthur’s half-sister/Gawain’s mother and a scavenger respectively, but they aren’t given quite enough time to make an impact as tremendous as their co-stars.
As great as the supporting cast is, Dev Patel is even more astonishing in the lead role. Gawain’s journey sees the young, brash, hopeful Knight constantly struggle with his ideals of honor, his integrity, overwhelming fear, and Patel never lets you forget it. Whether Gawain is discussing his thoughts, plans, or feelings with someone else, or suffering in isolation on-route to meet what could easily be certain death, Patel conveys everything in such a masterful fashion that I’d be downright baffled if he isn’t in the running for several best actor accolades when the next award season rolls around.
The Green Knight’s cinematography, visual effects, sound design, and score are top notch too. As I was walking to my car with one of the friends I saw the movie with, we both discussed the sounds and sights of Lowery’s brilliantly-crafted world. The orange and yellow horizons, cold castle interiors, lush forests, seemingly endless, rocky landscapes, it was all stunning to look at and beautifully shot. The immersion those sights grant the picture are even stronger with the accompaniment of sounds like old trees creaking in the distance, the light trickling of water, and a soundtrack that is both medieval and hauntingly ethereal in tone.
The end result of such brilliant actors and top-to-bottom filmmaking is an immaculate, bleakly enchanting retelling of an Arthurian legend, and a film destined to end up on many people’s “Best of 2021” lists, including my own. Its two-plus hour runtime flew by for me, as I was captivated through each and every sequence, and that level engagement is extremely hard to get from someone with an attention span as short as mine. And, at long last, I can finally say that my favorite film based on Arthurian legend isn’t Monty Python and the Holy Grail!