‘It get tricky!’ shouts the Scavenger (Barry Keoghan) at Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) in David Lowrey’s sumptuous re-telling of the 14th century poem. Created for the A24 imprint that’s best known for horror hits like Hereditary, The Green Knight lets loose over two hours of weird, baroque imagery that has to be seen to be believed; while those seeking Game of Thrones remixed will be horrified by the slow pace and unconventional scenes, the open-minded will be rewarded by one of the best evocation of a medieval fantasy land to date.
Lowrey has form, with most of his projects, from Pete’s Dragon to Ain’t These Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story, and a tricky version of the traditional quest story is very much in his wheelhouse. The film opens at Christmas, but while Gawain is happy to attend Mass, it’s a boozy, sex-ed up kind-of-mass that’s more like a frat party. Sobriety hits hard at the court of King Arthur (Sean Harris) and Guinevere (Kate Dickie) when the mysterious Green Knight appears, demanding that one of the king’s court chops his melon off. Gawain obliges, but when the Knight picks up his napper like yesterday’s shopping and promises to return to take a shot next Christmas, Gawain only has a year to find his courage and figure out how he feels about love, death and the whole damn thing.
As with most quest stories, the quest is episodic, but that’s correct for the film’s idiom. Patel makes for a charismatic lead, and Lowrey sets up all kind of visual challenges that make for a fun ride, particularly when it comes to sex. Sure, when Gawain catches it up with the Green Knight, there’s an intense staring competition that will have you checking your streaming service to make sure your picture hasn’t frozen, but that’s all fine. Foxes talk, as usual, Alicia Vikander has a killer monologue that’s a career highpoint for her, Joel Edgerton is good value as a mysterious Lord, and the cast seem to have got the memo to play their roles creatively; while deliberately po-faced at times, there’s also lots of humour when Lowrey deliberately leans into the sense of anachronism.
Pulled from UK cinema release in July, The Green Knight drops mysteriously on Amazon Prime on its new cinema release date; it’ll be a struggle to get punters to buy tickets for a film they can legally watch at home for free. But the struggles of the box-office during a pandemic are not Lowrey’s fault; his The Green Knight is an absolute knock-out from start to finish, one of the most stimulating releases of the year, and has the freshly-minted feel that Excalibur had in 1981; it’s the best version of this story since the 14th century.