The 14th-century poem’s themes of chivalry, empathy, seduction, and time have rung true since the story’s creation. The authorless tome of romance and gamesmanship spun countless interpretations, ranging from Christian lenses to homoerotic reading. Despite the strong influence of the Arthurian legend, it’s rarely made the jump to film, just twice: Gawain and the Green Knight (1973) and Sword of the Valiant (1984) starring Miles O’Keeffe, Sean Connery, and Peter Cushing. Even outside of Gawain, sincere attempts to capture Arthurian stories have rarely lent themselves to critical or financial success. Most critical or financially successful Arthurian films have been genre crossovers or parody, while most weaker Arthurian films impose modern sensibilities on the story or production. David Lowery makes the daring attempt to tell the story of The Green Knight with the weight, dignity, and commitment of old Arthurian lore. His gambit has proven successful, as The Green Knight is one of the best films of 2021 and one of the best Arthurian film of all time.
Everything about The Green Knight feels grand. The production, dialogue, and music have the weight and grandeur of a legend brought to life. The world of The Green Knight feels rich and lived in, with beautiful cinematography and memorable characters with an air of wonder and power. David Lowery approaches the story without a hint of cynicism. He avoids all attempts at appearing modern or self-aware, relishing in its medieval setting and sensibilities. Lowery sprinkles some humor here and there to keep the film from being dry and giving personality to his characters. This sincerity is the film’s strongest quality, as it demonstrates Lowery’s confidence in his story and his audience to go along with it, making the film more immersive. Writing-wise, Lowery dedicates himself to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, telling a traditional hero’s journey story that’s easy to follow. Still, with some unique twists and dynamic characters, he keeps the audience hooked and the story from feeling predictable. Given the history behind the Green Knight poem, adhering to the monomyth feels natural, welcoming even, as the story feels like an old tome being read by a roaring fire and a goblet of ale. This film is a treat for fans of mythology and fantasy films, but I feel anyone would be taken in by the world Lowery constructs.
All of the actors bring their A-game, losing themselves in their roles. I always judge acting not by whether it’s “realistic” but rather by how well the performance fits the character. I saw the character over the actor for each performance, a credit to both the cast and the direction. Dev Patel deserves all the accolades and praise as Sir Gawain. His natural charisma leaps off the screen, bestowing Gawain with personality and charm. As he endeavors his trials, Gawain’s growth feels natural and seamless, as Patel clearly understands the power of his role and delivers full force. He is Sir Gawain. The supporting cast is all memorable, from a lively performance from Joel Edgerton as a Lord who takes in Gawain, an entertainingly crafty Barry Keogher as a scavenger, and Sean Harris delivering an experienced, grand performance as King Arthur. The actors have as much respect for the story as the director, and it shows through their stellar performances.
The Green Knight is an exercise in passion. It’s clear Lowery loves the story he’s telling, and everyone involved in the production was on the same page. It’s a gorgeous cinematic retelling of this legend and is a perfect example of ambition being rewarded. See this movie on the biggest screen you can find.
The Green Knight will be released by A24 on July 30th