Based on the 14th century story, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a modern retelling of the tale and legend is presented to audiences in The Green Knight, starring Dev Patel as the young, brooding, and handsome Gawain, nephew of an aging King Arthur.
Boisterous, looking for his next thrill, and indulgent in his own vices, Gawain has yet to create his story, he’s not a knight and he hasn’t had the opportunity to go on an adventure or quest to set himself apart. But, on Christmas, as Gawain attends his uncle’s court for festivities and food, a stranger declares himself and the Green Knight introduces himself as wanting to play a game –– but which knight would be brave enough to take him up on his offer? As it turns out, it would be Gawain who steps up and his decision to strike the Green Knight would catapult him, a full year later, to embark on an obligation he agreed to as part of this game and his legend, in this rendering of the classic story, is created.
Gawain leaves his home, after a year of anticipation, uncertainty, and local fame since his encounter with the strange knight, in order to fulfill his end of the deal in the game he decided to play. In order to land a strike on the Green Knight, Gawain must seek him out again a year later, and visit him on the next Christmas, in order to receive the same blow in return. For Gawain, however, this may mean sacrificing his life, either at the hands of the knight or by the dangers of his encounters on the road while he embarks on this quest.
Dev Patel excels in his performance as Gawain, the yet-to-be knight, and he delivers a character that is equal parts brutal and endearing. Patel builds upon his portfolio as an actor and this weird, adventurous, and poetic tale is unlike that other works he has involved himself with in the past. True to A24 fashion, The Green Knight is a unique and carefully crafted piece of storytelling that leaves audiences entangled in its beauty and theorizing about its meanings and messages long after it ends.
Barry Keoghan makes an appearance, or two, later on as a weirdly wayward young man who comes into contact with Gawain and their interactions mark a turn for the young adventurer in what he is doing and why he is marching through a treacherous landscape. Sean Harris plays the aging and weaker King Arthur, who looks upon his nephew with interest and hope, and this presentation of the legendary king is different from what is normally done. While an Arthurian tale, this is not about King Arthur, he is a supporting character for Gawain and he serves to establish Gawain’s potential future.
Worth mentioning is the divisiveness among some audience members and even some critics when it comes The Green Knight. It is not everybody’s cup of tea, or mug of mead. The illustrative devices, symbolism, and spectacles of the film, with what is said and how it’s said, or what is visually apparent onscreen, do send the story in a direction that is less literal and much more metaphorical and poetic. Along the adventure with Gawain, there is also an episodic nature to his encounters as each step of way presents a new challenge or interaction with another character. Each of these builds upon the previous until Gawain finally reaches his goal.
If you want a more traditional and straightforward Arthurian tale, Excalibur might be the better film for you. The Green Knight, on the other hand, will challenge you and it will give you a telling of a legend that mesmerizes and tackles some larger questions about courage, purpose, and the consequences of a person’s actions.