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The Green Knight

*****
2020

‘…the best version of this story since the 14th century….’

‘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.

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  1. I had been looking forward/dreading seeing this in the cinema but I think it’s passed me by. I had expected to hate it but now you have certainly set my intrigue buds racing and glad to hear it is potentially a lot better than other reviews suggest.

  2. Test rhymes with quest and is as linked to it as head is to neck. The various versions of this story, told by Turks (Al Khidr), French, Vedics, and Celts, have an aura of sacrifice and redemption. What is a sacrifice but the act of giving up something to get something better, no? Otherwise, why ask to be beheaded? The tales never quite explain…
    You’re right, not since Excalibur have we seen an Arthur tale so luminescent. The underpinnings of this tale have always felt very Celtic to me because they actually formed a veneration cult around beheading, although so did the Egyptians, Romanians, Nordic, and Aztecs. Kipling sagely said, ‘if u can keep your head when everyone is losing theirs…’ I’m glad Lowrey kept his, as Medusa, John the Baptist, Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, William Wallace, Marie Antoinette, Vic Morrow, Queen of Hearts vics, and the Black Dahlia weren’t so fortunate!

    • Glad to hear you liked this, it’s a pagan, Celtic riot in a good way. Will do some research into the different versions; as with Mallory, literal explanatons falls somewhat flat. I liked the trick ending here, very Last Temptation, and without getting into death, the Green Knight can symbolise the inevitability of death. Gawain has been running ‘enjoy yourself while you can’ software from scene one, but his realisation that his days are liteerally numbered provides the rite of passage that every worth knight requires.The connection between the head and the heart would seem to be where the soul resides, and the Green Knight’s connection is so firm that he can easily lose the physical connection without a fuss. But for Gawain, that evolution will not be such a simple process. Anyway, it all looks lovely and some of the dialogue really cracked me up!

  3. This was one of Tolkien’s favorite mythologies and I think he wrote his own poem version of it. Don’t hold me to that though, as I might be confusing him with some other Inkling.

    As for it being on Prime, they want $20 for a bleeding rental! Outrageous….

    • Yup, this is one of THE seminal works of literature, and would be well familiar to JRR. Free in Prime in the UK, and travel restrictions have been lifted, so probably cheaper for you to fly over here and see it. Biden is taking you for a chimp by slapping a twenty buck price tag on this! It’s free on the NHS here! There’s monsters, talking animals and everything, a great watch!

      • I told you Prez Joey B would be the death of the United States, and you wouldn’t listen. Well, who’s crying now? Wait, that would be me.
        Death before forking over a 20 for a movie!
        Not much of a rallying cry, is it? I’ll have to work on that.

        • I’m pretty sure Biden is DELIBERATELY hiking up the prices of films that he suspects that YOU are interested in. I’d be keen to audit his price-fixing. Why not send me all your money and I’ll investigate!?

            • I would contact your service provider AND write to your local representative. Biden promised a Muppets boxed set in EVERY household this summer. Promises failed.

    • How much O’Keeffe is in Sword of the Valiant? Miles O’Keeffe! I’d thought there was no way of topping Miles O’Keeffe’s enduringly hilarious performance, but there’s some wonderfully daft moments in this epic that run him close. And the talking fox must be a runner in awards season.

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