Adventure Drama

Review: ‘The Green Knight’ is a Mesmerizing Arthurian Quest that’s Destined to Become a Classic

July 30, 2021Ben MK

From The Sword in the Stone to Excalibur, the legend of King Arthur has inspired many a filmmaker, with such directors as Guy Ritchie, Anton Fuqua and Terry Gilliam each bringing their own take on Britain's most enduring and far-reaching myth. With The Green Knight, however, writer-director David Lowery is challenging audiences to accompany him on what may very well be the most mesmerizing and unique Arthurian quest yet — and you can be sure that heads are (literally) going to roll.

An adaptation of the classic 14th century poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," the story follows Gawain (Dev Patel), future Knight of the Round Table and nephew to King Arthur (Sean Harris) and Queen Guinevere (Kate Dickie). When we first meet him, however, Gawain is anything but noble, awakening in a house of ill repute after spending the night lying with a prostitute named Essel (Alicia Vikander). In fact, it's not until later on that day, during the King's annual Christmas feast, that we start to get a sense of Gawain's true character. For when a mysterious knight (Ralph Ineson) makes an impromptu appearance, challenging anyone brave enough to land a blow against him, it's Gawain who steps up to the task — wielding Excalibur itself to lop the head off the baritone-voiced stranger, who could easily be mistaken for Groot's bearded and much more intimidating cousin.

Unfortunately for Gawain, losing his head barely phases this tree-like inquisitor. For no sooner does this Green Knight's body hit the ground does it begin to rise again. And as he holds his head up high in one hand, he issues Gawain one final ultimatum — commanding him to travel to a faraway place known as the Green Chapel in exactly one year's time, in order to see the blow returned in kind. It's a haunting death sentence that dogs Gawain for the next 12 months, and when he embarks on his fateful journey in December of the following year, only Gawain's mother (Sarita Choudhury) seems confident that he will return. Nonetheless, despite his own doubts, Gawain sets forth from Camelot's gates, taking his first steps to becoming the legend future generations will know him as.

What follows will see Gawain contending with all sorts of strange creatures — some friendly, some hostile, some human, and some not. But whether it's a deranged highwayman (Barry Keoghan) who tricks Gawain with false directions or the spirit of a young woman named Winifred (Erin Kellyman) who needs his help to retrieve her severed head, Gawain knows that he must press on. And so he does, charging evermore forward into the unknown and encountering even more and more incomprehensible sights, from dopplegangers to a talking fox, and even hundred-foot-tall giants who appear to be marching on some unknowable quest of their own.

The resulting hero's journey makes abundantly clear why J.R.R. Tolkien himself called the original poem "a window of many colored glass looking back into the middle ages." Unlike Tolkien's own Lord of the Rings trilogy and Peter Jackson's beloved film adaptations, however, The Green Knight is more riddle than narrative, yet moviegoers courageous enough to join Gawain on this journey will be richly rewarded — not with answers, per se, but with an evocative medieval fable that will surely become a classic in its own right.

The Green Knight releases July 30th, 2021 from Elevation Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for violence, some sexuality and graphic nudity. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 10 min.

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