The Dev Patel train is not slowing down any time soon, and The Green Knight certainly establishes his range. The actor stars as the best of King Arthur’s knights, Sir Gawain, in this medieval fantasy film based on the Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Originally slated for the South by Southwest 2020 roster but was pulled out due to the ongoing pandemic and director David Lowery’s dissatisfaction with the cut, one of Film Twitter’s most anticipated A24 films is finally coming out this summer.
The Green Knight begins with a haunting narration explaining what we will be seeing for the next two hours. A man with a crown sits on a throne holding precious things as if posing for a royal portrait; it is Sir Gawain. It cuts to the same man having fun in bed with his paramour, Essel (Alicia Vikander). He is enjoying the days of his youth, which is a contrast from his introduction. His youth halts to a stop when he volunteers for a challenge by the titular Green Knight: a Christmas beheading game in which the volunteer must behead this mysterious treeman and then be beheaded by the Green Knight by next year at Green Chapel.
In this film, Lowery asks, “How do you make a beheading game make sense to modern audiences?” It does seem ridiculous at first, but he does a great job of making this game make sense as the film unravels Sir Gawain’s chivalry and honor. Volunteering to behead the Green Knight makes Sir Gawain, who is an inexperienced knight, become an overnight sensation throughout Camelot. He then faces pressure for his bravery for playing the Green Knight’s game and must die by the end of the year, keeping his end of the bargain. The Green Knight is more of a character study, but it is still riddled with so much mystery, symbolism, and mysticality. The film is occupied by a lot of Christian and Pagan symbolism as both beliefs grasped England at the time of the poem’s conception. It alludes to Christian themes like temptation and the eventual crucifixion of an honorable man, holding such a fascination throughout the kingdom for what he has bravely done—a parallel to what Jesus Christ went through.
Lowery also examines the culture of masculinity portrayed by the poem and spotlights it with Sir Gawain’s interaction with the women of the story. The director rewrote the role of Morgan le Fay, the sister of King Arthur, as Sir Gawain’s mother (Sarita Choudhury), a more important role. Only known as Mother in the film, she is the one who summons the Green Knight to challenge King Arthur’s knights to a game; she might be the one pulling the strings of Gawain’s journey behind the scenes. Other female presences in Gawain’s journey are Essel and the Lady (both played by Vikander), the Lady being married to the Lord (Joel Edgerton) who hosts Sir Gawain near the end of his journey. Looking into how these women play out throughout the story, they have a more powerful presence compared to the men, and they control their own desires which then minimizes the masculinity that Gawain represents.
Patel does an amazing job portraying the brave knight. Known for his upbeat, charming characters, he makes Sir Gawain likeable even though Lowery first intended him to be nearly irredeemable. The supporting cast gave strong performances as well, with recognizable actors from other A24 productions like Vikander, Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie, who both played the parents in The Witch, and Barry Keoghan.
With sparse dialogue, the story relies on Sir Gawain’s interaction with the rough terrain he treks and the different situations he encounters on his way to the Green Chapel. The film gave such a gritty, wintery look as the poem is considered a Christmas tale, using mostly natural lighting and firelight. The score permeates throughout the film as well, intensifying the overall fantasy feel of it. Overall, Lowery executed the film with astonishing visual storytelling paired with the thrilling journey of the brave young knight, keeping me on the edge of my seat. It did, however, dwindle in the middle, but it regained traction with its ending, in which Lowery strayed away from the original text alluding to temptation.
At first look, The Green Knight seems like your typical medieval fantasy film. But on closer inspection it tells the tale of a young knight coming to terms with himself as he faces his destiny. It’s not showy and CGI-heavy like most fantasy-centred films but is still visually stunning. If possible, see it on the big screen.