‘By the look of you, you haven’t come here to bob for apples’ says one character of Sean Connery’s Green Knight in this Cannon film from 1984; it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what Connery does look like here. The James Bond bears the look of a freshly basted turkey, is sporting green from head to foot, seems to be wearing a sparkly Gary Glitter outfit and has antlers growing out of his head. It’s a measure of the wild quality of this film that Connery fits right in to this delirium; it’s one of the strangest roles ever undertaken by a major star.
But strange is par for the course here; the release of the new A24 fantasy The Green Knight seems like an ideal time to exhume this earlier version of the 14th century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. A24 are likely to mine the material of the kind of throwback mythology that’s infused Hereditary and the evocation of King Paimon featured in that film; Sword of the Valiant attempts to fashion a blood-and-thunder adventure from the same material. Reportedly, Weeks wanted Mark Hamill for the lead, but instead he got Miles O’Keeffe in a blonde wig.
O’Keefe was already an object of international derision for his performances in Tarzan the Ape Man and Ator the Fighting Eagle, and he proves those were no flukes with a mesmerizingly bad performance as Sir Gawain. When the Green Knight comes to his court, Sir Gawain offers to defend the King (Trevor Howard), but ends up with a year to live before the Green Knight returns to chop his napper off. During that year, Gawain meets a number of British character actors including Peter Cushing, David Rappaport, Leigh Lawson, Ronald Lacey and John Rhys Davies as well as Oscar-winner Lila Kedrova with a headdress that appears to be made out of Glasgow City Council regulation bin-bags.
Weeks had filmed the same story back in 1973, with some of the same cast, but Sword of the Valiant updates the story to the norms of 80’s sword and sorcery. The episodic structure is true to the material, and there are dashes of humour that indicate that the ridiculousness of the project was not lost on the creative team. Sword of the Valiant is a game effort to film an ancient text a la Beowulf, and despite an incongrous 80’s synth score, is well worth a look in the ‘I can’t believe what I’m looking at’ file. An imported DVD of this will set you back over £20 notes in the UK, where the film in not legally available without a letter from your doctor and a signed note from a grown-up.