Director: David Lowery
Starring: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Barry Keoghan, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Run Time: 130 mins
The Green Knight is the latest from director David Lowery, who has had an interesting and varied career to date. His debut Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was an excellent crime drama and Lowery was then granted a bigger budget for his follow-up with Disney’s Pete’s Dragon. Lowery then wrote and directed a more intimate feature, A Ghost Story, which had an excellent premise but I found it hard work to engage in with some baffling creative choices. This was then followed by The Old Man And The Gun, a far more accessible feature that was the vehicle for Robert Redford’s swansong and there was a lot to admire in its earnest and twinkly tone. The Green Knight is an adaptation of the 14th Century poem, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, and is a passion project for the director.
It is Christmas at King Arthur’s roundtable and Gawain is invited by his side, even though he is not a knight and spends his time drinking and having fun in brothels. The Green Knight turns up at the castle and he sets a challenge to the audience to strike a blow against him. In a year’s time, he who strikes him must journey to the Green Chapel to face a similar blow. Gawain accepts the challenge, to try and prove his worth, impressively decapitates the knight, who then picks up his head and leaves, laughing at Gawain who will face a similar blow next Christmas. Gawain spends his year in drunkenness and then leaves on his quest.
I was worried about this film, prior to watching it. Whilst the critical reception has been very positive, it has proven divisive with audiences and I was worried Lowery was going to deliver another incomprehensible mess in the vein of A Ghost Story.
The Green Knight is a visually arresting and often captivating take on the material. It is also baffling at times and it would be easy to label Lowery’s direction as pretentious but it’s not. The film has stayed with me and its enigmatic and poetic tone is admirable. It is a film that lends itself to repeat viewing and some of Lowery’s directorial choices are clearer when you are aware of the structure of the storytelling. Dev Patel’s performance is extraordinary and he is able to capture the headstrong nature of his character with his child-like immaturity. Lowery’s choice of having certain actors playing multiple characters is an interesting choice and made for a perplexing choice on first viewing but this is symbolic of Gawain’s life approach. The only weak link of the cast is surprisingly Alicia Vikander, whose character I couldn’t connect with and she was unconvincing with her wobbly accent.
Every frame in this film is drop-dead gorgeous and this is a film to be studied for its photography from its fog drenched landscape to the dark and mossy forests. This is complimented by Daniel Hart’s predominantly string-based score that allows a sense of foreboding.
Not everything works with The Green Knight. As well as the oddly strange Alicia Vikander performance, there are some moments that Lowery dwells on for too long which make the film a little languorous and there is also a questionable sex scene that pushes the film to its adult rating. Lowery really nails the ending of the film, which is poignantand elegiac and allows the audience a proper sense of closure. Mark Kermode’s likening of the ending in his review to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 seemed like an odd comparison but it is actually an extremely astute association.
The Green Knight is a really admirable effort by David Lowery and although not everything works, it is always best when a director takes a bold risk rather than plays it safe. There have been numerous King Arthur / Merlin adaptations in film history but The Green Knight stands on its own feet and I’m very glad it exists. There are lots of layers to Lowery’s storytelling here and this is a film be that opens up on rewatches if you are able to be absorbed by it.