Written and directed by David Lowery (A Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon), The Green Knight is an adaptation of the 14th century poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The tale goes that on a winter’s day, the mysterious Green Knight enters King Arthur’s hall, approaching the knights of the round table. The knight proposes a game, in which any of the knights present may strike a blow upon him with his axe, on the condition that said knight rides out to the Green Chapel, where the blow will be returned upon him. Sir Gawain, the youngest of the knights and Arthur’s own nephew, takes up the challenge.
In this film adaptation, Gawain is portrayed by Oscar nominated actor Dev Patel (Lion, Slumdog Millionaire) as a young man who has not yet be knighted, but seeks the approval of his uncle, played by Sean Harris. These performances were by far the highlights of the film, as Patel is excellent at balancing the chivalrous expectations of a knight with the hubris of a young man, while Harris is regal and captivating in all scenes he appears in. Other notable cast members include Joel Edgerton, Alicia Vikander, and Erin Kellyman who all appear as tests Gawain must overcome on his journey to the Green Chapel.
This movie is slow burning, and it seems likely that you will either love it or hate it, much like Lowery’s other most recent film, A Ghost Story. There is a shot, quite early in the film, where Gawain leaves for his journey. This is a long take of Gawain riding a horse down a road. It begins with some children following him. Eventually a shepherd and his sheep begin walking down the road the other way. This is the entire shot. For some audience members, this will come across as pretentious and overly artsy. For others, this will be essential in helping set the tone of the film. The entire movie is quite reminiscent of It Comes at Night, which also features Joel Edgerton in a leading role.
Regardless of controversies around the quality of the storytelling, The Green Knight is a well-made, well-shot, well-acted movie, and quite possible one of the better movies of 2021 for those that enjoy it. That being said, for the ones who do not like it, this will likely be one of the worst movies of 2021. The Green Knight will likely find it’s audience among those who have enjoyed the numerous slow-burn horror movies of the last few years, such as Robert Eggers’ The Witch and The Lighthouse.