“One Year Hence…” – The Green Knight
Written, produced, directed and edited by David Lowery (Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story, The Old Man & the Gun), The Green Knight, released in 2021, is a visually stunning fantasy odyssey based on the 14th-century Middle English poem; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by the Gawain Poet. Steered by a spectacular performance from Dev Patel, The Green Knight takes the timeless legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and deconstructs many aspects of the famed fables, leaving a lot of its story open to interpretation while casting a captivating spell on its audience through a slow-paced, mature and stylistic fantasy adventure.
Plot Summary: On Christmas Day, before the noble King Arthur and his loyal Knights of the Round Table, the King’s headstrong nephew, Sir Gawain, agrees to a challenge from a formidable foe; in a year’s time, travel to the remote Green Chapel and face its ghastly lord, the Green Knight. But, as the one-year milestone arrives, Gawain embarks on his peril-laden journey with great apprehension, traversing the land in an effort to honour his promise and prove his mettle…
A large majority of The Green Knight‘s narrative revolves around the five traditional knightly virtues of friendship, generosity, chastity, courtesy and piety. Throughout the runtime, Gawain, when tested, fails at all five of these virtues through a variety of situations, demonstrating that Gawain is not yet ready to be a knight and adding to the subtext of his journey. Moreover, in order to make his vision of the Arthurian world appear more distinct, Lowery’s screenplay freely capitalises on folk elements derived from Welsh, Irish and English stories, as well as the French chivalric tradition of the Middle Ages to flesh out the world-building and Gawain’s mystical encounters that are only alluded to in the original verse.
Whilst the supporting cast of Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Barry Keoghan and Erin Kellyman are all sublime in their various roles, Dev Patel truly knocks it out of the park performance-wise, portraying Sir Gawain as a troubled yet well-intending relative of the celebrated hero and monarch, King Arthur, evidently anxious about overcoming his personal flaws to find his honour and live up to the legacy left by his uncle and his faithful Knights, all in the hope of one day becoming the monarch himself. Patel is simply a magnet for the audience’s sympathy and the protagonist Gawain is a character anyone can get behind, with his journey of trials, temptations, trouble and self-discovery only adding to his subtle characterisation.
Primarily shot in Ireland, presumably to capture much of the island’s natural beauty. Practically all of the cinematography by Andrew Droz Palermo is visually astonishing, depicting a grounded and eerie fantasy world that makes fantastical concepts like spirits, giants and a talking fox seem almost ordinary. From soggy marshes to lonely mountain roads and extensive forests wrapped in mist, the camerawork never fails to visually grasp the looming dread that grips the land, mirroring Gawain’s fear of the Green Knight. The set design is also remarkably impressive, assuring the shadowy interiors of each structure are equally atmospheric. The only real downside concerning the visuals would be the CG effects, which often appear too glossy and clean when compared to the rest of the unkept visual aesthetic. Still, all of this is somewhat to be expected, as Lowery has always been a gifted visual storyteller, especially when it comes to colour usage, and The Green Knight is no exception, retaining a wildly diverse colour palette of earthly tones, making the film perhaps Lowery’s most sumptuous work to date.
Similarly, the original score by Daniel Hart manages to convey the setting, time period and action/emotion without performing the same tricks too many times over. Through tracks like Excalibur and Now I’m Ready, I’m Ready Now, the Pagan-like percussion and xylophone come and go, frequently followed by a whistle or pipe lead and rattling backing, making for an almost medieval-like dance rhythm. The score also utilises acoustic drums, bass strings, angelic vocals, bottles and harps. And it’s this unique combination of instruments that allows the soundtrack to expertly back up Gawain’s journey across numerous scenes, whether triumphant or fearful.
Given that the character’s name is the very title of the film, the Green Knight needed to leave an impact on the story and the audience. Luckily, he does just that. Sporting overgrown, corroded armour engraved with the Sabaic alphabet (Sabaic being a South Arabian language spoken from 1000 BC to 6th Century AD), the Green Knight has a tremendous on-screen presence, appearing ancient, imposing and authentic as a result of his flawless costuming and prosthetic make-up, the Green Knight’s towering appearance only being rivalled by his baritone voice, well-provided by actor, Ralph Ineson.
In summary, The Green Knight is a visually breathtaking fantasy flick, in addition to another exceptional release from production company; A24 Films, outside of its usual brand of horror and drama-centric films. Although its pacing is occasionally too slow for its own good and many audience members will undoubtedly be turned off by its assortment of interpretive scenes and heavy emphasis on underlying themes. David Lowery employs almost every ounce of his imagination to craft an audacious and demanding Arthurian adaptation that warrants multiple viewings to increase its allure. Rating: low 8/10.