The Green Knight
A Visually Stunning Adventure North

Photo of the Green Knight
Photo by Film Grab

“When you go, your footprints will fill with grass. Moss shall cover your tombstone, and as the sun rises, green shall spread over all, in all its shades and hues. This verdigris will overtake your swords and your coins and your battlements and, try as you might… All you hold dear will succumb to it.” The fire crackles, and Gawain’s eyes strain in the dark to look at the woman. Her words like stone upon water. His stomach drops. But he cannot stop this journey.

“The Green Knight” is a film written, directed, and edited by David Lowery. It is an adaptation of the 14th-century tale “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” which was written by an anonymous author. This is the third film adaptation of this tale, the first being “Gawain and the Green Knight” in 1973, directed by Stephen Weeks, and then the remake “Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” in 1984 by the same director. All versions of the tale follow Gawain, a nephew of the famous King Arthur, who goes on an epic quest to confront a mysterious green figure after making a deal to play a wicked game with him the previous Christmas.

Gawain is played by Dev Patel in the film, and his performance is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. His ability to bring weakness and strength to a character that goes through just as difficult of a journey as any Arthurian figure would is superbly underrated. Patel’s Gawain feels like he’s filling shoes that are much too big for him, and yet, by some optical illusion (or in the film’s case, a camera obscura scene in which a portrait of Gawain is taken in a primitive photographic technique) that state of being is flipped on its head. Patel’s Gawain becomes the hero the film needs him to be, despite many temptations along the way trying to sway him from his purpose.

With Patel included, Lowery’s cast is full of other well known acting talent. Alicia Vikander plays dual roles as Essel, Gawain’s sweetheart, as well as the mysterious Lady Bertilak, and also Ralph Ineson plays the titular Green Knight, Sean Harris plays King Arthur, and even Barry Keoghan has a brief cameo!

Another one of the strengths of “The Green Knight” is its fantastic photography. The film is immensely colorful, with scenes of haunting primary colors dominated by green, almost like something out of a medieval giallo film. The round table was also a key element in the film, and learning how to film it was difficult, leading cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo and production designer Jade Healy to plan how lighting would be built into the Round Table scene ahead of time. Lowery also worked matte paintings into the film’s Round Table scenes, blending paintings and filmed images to create a narrative that was multi-textual.

The costumes, done by Malgosia Turzanska, are also immersive and beautiful. A spectrum of color decorates the film’s costume design, and they detail the character’s personalities through their complexities. There are elements where the costumes have to be overly clean, and also times when Gawain, or other characters, are physically changed by their environment, creating new costumes out of old ones and embodying their changes through this.

Something that affected the release of “The Green Knight” was the COVID pandemic initial outbreak in 2020. The film was originally due to release March 16th, 2020, but all theatrical releases were shut down shortly before, so the film was left unreleased until 2021. Lowery however credited this halt as a good thing, as it allowed him more time to work on editing the film in a different way, taking an entire year to edit the introduction scene for the knight.

The film, like the original tale, has complex themes that fit with the zeitgeist of the tales themselves. There is the supernatural, involving a side plot where Gawain encounters a mysterious red headed woman in a cottage during the night. There’s also themes of magic, when Gawain is given a green girdle to wear that is supposed to make him unable to be hurt by anything, and the idea of nature retaking humanity, with Lady Bertilak’s haunting monologue about green retaking humanity. But most importantly, the film is about wanting to take control of your own fate, something that Gawain struggles with. Green, much like Gawain says, is the color of earth, of living things, of life. But it is also jealousy, greed, and envy. The balance of those is hard to find, especially for Gawain.

David Lowery’s The Green Knight takes the viewer through a bizarre, visually stunning journey northward, much like Gawain, and fills us with visions of Camelot and green colored seals on cursed letters. Dev Patel brings a youthfulness and recklessness to Gawain that develops into something truly unique by the film’s conclusion. Patel as Gawain solidifies him in an increasing pantheon of actors that have films that stretch across all types of genres, and Lowery’s direction brings a whole new aesthetically spellbinding interpretation to the Arthurian tale.

The Green Knight is currently available on VOD.

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