Review: Spellbinding, Macabre, Fantasy 'The Green Knight' Bewitches

by Megan Kearns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 12, 2021

'The Green Knight'
'The Green Knight'  (Source:A24)

Adapting a centuries old legendary tale can be challenging to offer a unique perspective. "The Green Knight" is a mystical, intoxicating, macabre medieval fantasy. Like a siren's song, the film beckons and bewitches. A bold vision, it's haunting and unsettling.

Starring Dev Patel as Sir Gawain, the film adapts the Arthurian legend "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Directed, written, and edited by David Lowery, the film also stars Alicia Vikander, Sarita Choudhury, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, and Ralph Ineson.

A woman's voice narrates the film's ominous opening, setting the Arthurian stage. Then her voice alters, sounding demonic as Gawain sits on a throne, his face eventually engulfed in flames. At Camelot, Gawain — who's not yet a knight — celebrates Christmas Day with King Arthur (Sean Harris), Queen Guinevere (Kate Dickie), and the Knights of the Round Table.

The Green Knight (a tree-like man, voiced by Ralph Ineson) arrives with a challenge: Anyone who strikes him will receive the same strike in one year. Gawain accepts the challenge. Bright light floods the room when Gawain holds the legendary sword Excalibur. He beheads the Green Knight (beheading becomes a motif in the film). But the Green Knight doesn't die; instead, he picks up his head and rides off on his horse, reminiscent of the Headless Horseman from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

After a year passes, Gawain embarks on a quest to find the Green Knight. Along the way (and accompanied by a strange fox), he encounters challenges such as thieves, a ghost (Erin Kellyman) in need of help finding her head (updating the myth of St. Winifred as a sexual assault victim), giants, and temptations.

Dev Patel is magnetic. He conveys a spectrum of emotions, vacillating between arrogance, uncertainty, fear, and weariness. He says he's unafraid in combat and his quest, yet hesitancy contradicts his words. It's exciting to see a person of color in the heroic role.

This is a great cast overall. I'm always delighted to see Sarita Choudhury. Portraying Gawain's mother, she's credited as "Mother," but she's clearly Morgan le Fay: King Arthur calls her his sister, and she uses magic rituals to manipulate events. In the texts, Morgause is actually Gawain's mother, but adaptations often fuse the two women. Alicia Vikander, who I usually find underwhelming, gives a solid performance.

"The Green Knight" captivates with stunning visuals and special effects by Weta Digital. Diverging from pristine fairytale veneer, it shows us hints of bleak brutality: A skeleton in a cage on the road, dead bodies on spikes amidst a former battlefield. Circles and pentagrams (both pagan symbols) recur throughout the film. Andrew Loz Palermo's cinematography mirrors circles, as the camera often spins around or turns upside down. Colored light — green, red, or yellow — illuminates various scenes, transforming the mundane to something ethereal and otherworldly.

With a macabre spin, Lowery infuses the legend with new life. A traditional monomyth or Hero's Journey, "The Green Knight" becomes a commentary on the ennui of the cycle of life, as well as the fatigue and futility of royalty, battle, and war. It's a riveting, spellbinding film.

"The Green Knight" is now available on Blu-ray. DVD, 4K, and Digital.