The Green Knight (Review): An Honorable, Unexpected Adaptation

Ready your sword (or axe if you’d prefer), don your chain-mail and accompany me for a most honorable quest… to review The Green Knight.

The Green Knight is based on classic 14th century English poem Sir Gawain and The Green Knight (a legend of King Arthur’s court). I’ve never read the poem myself, but the film seems faithful in many respects!

Young nephew of King Arthur, Gawain (played by Dev Patel), mingles with Camelot’s court on Christmas Day for a holiday celebration. Gawain is soon summoned by the King for a personal conversation. Arthur requests a story about Gawain to determine what kind of man he is. Gawain has no stories to tell yet. But he will soon…

That day, a monstrous horseman– known only as The Green Knight– rides into Camelot and offers a challenge: land a blow on his body, and he will return a blow in like one year hence. Gawain accepts the challenge and cuts off the Knight’s head. But the Knight rises from the ground, grabs its head, and rides off back to its chapel, reminding Gawain to meet him there in one year so he may complete the challenge.

Well, now Gawain has put himself in a bind. He must either embark on a suicidal quest to maintain his honor, or disgrace himself. Of course the citizen of Camelot chooses honor!

But why? That’s a question many people ask Gawain throughout the film. It’s never answered outright but my interpretation is: he wants to be a good person and live a worth-while life. Honour and chivalry are what he’s been raised to believe will give him that destiny. But he’s not sure exactly what those things mean.

The story is told through a series of loosely-connected chapters, each of them testing Gawain on an aspect of his virtue and providing challenges for him to overcome. 

The titled Green Knight. If you’re not scared, maybe you should be…

Here’s where I’m gonna come out here and admit: this movie will not be for everybody. Heck– it might not even be for most people. Don’t go into this thing expecting an action/ adventure thriller. The Green Knight is a very slow-burn character-based fantasy quest with no real action to speak of.

I wish the pacing was slightly faster. Many shots lingered past their welcome without adding anything but run-time to the movie. And many sequences could have made their point and moved on sooner. I blame most of those choices on the editing. I mean, I’m sure they were intentional choices, but still…

All that said– I largely appreciated The Green Knight‘s decision to keep a relatively slow pace. Such a choice sets the film apart from others in its vein. And it offers more time to look at the gorgeous visuals. My one word review of the cinematography: “Wow!”

The Green Knight both thrives and suffers from its focus on visual storytelling. On the one hand, the cinematography is breathtaking, no matter what’s happening on screen. The setting designs, lighting, colouring and costuming are also incredible! TGK legitimately felt like Medieval Times (as I’d imagine it, anyway). It certainly pulled off the tone better than most films. And it’s refreshing to see visuals lead the story without having everything explained all the time. TGK choosing a visual focus also chooses to treat its audience like intelligent adults, trusting us to figure things out.

But if you’re more of a dialogue fan (as I am), you’re more likely to be frustrated by the visual focus. Most of the plot features Dev Patel silently walking through Medieval English forests and occasionally interacting with people or creatures. There isn’t much dialogue in TGK. I’m not opposed to that in principle, but it could be a problem for some! It’s especially harder to swallow when there isn’t much action to keep you otherwise attentive on the story.

There is a lot of magic though! I love what this film did with sorcery. They managed to ground spells and monsters in an environment which felt realistic. Much of the film felt fantastical, yet also of-this-world. And I found it refreshing how the human characters aren’t phased by the existence of sorcery. Magic is a fact of life for them. Maybe it’s just the entertainment I choose to watch, but I believe this nonchalant attitude to the paranormal should be more common in modern fantasy stories.

Pretty much the whole movie here

TGK’s cast are brilliant in their roles! My favourites were Dev Patel as Gawain, Sean Harris as King Arthur, and Alicia Vikander as Essel. Each of them commanded the screen and felt like layered human beings. I was pleasantly surprised how intimate relationships between characters were pieced together in such a relatively short time. I bought the interactions and emotions as they were presented.

I saw the film with my mother and brother– both of whom felt The Green Knight was “too artsy”. They thought the director’s influence was too noticeable and broke immersion, though they liked the story. I just like to add their perspectives because it helped shape my own. I agree with their sentiments. Their problems just didn’t bother me as much as them. They did come to appreciate the film more in the evening, once they had some distance (though many of their issues remained).

Speaking of my brother– he’s a lover of movie scores, whereas I hardly notice them (I’m more of a performance/ writing/ plot guy). And he thought this score was fantastic because it sounded of the times (namely, the Medieval period). He was relatively confident the score was crafted with instruments of the time. I’m not going to fact check that. The fact that he believes this is testament to the composition.

Jumping back to talk about the story more broadly now… I must voice my appreciation with the overall “feeling” of this narrative. Each of Gawain’s trials seem like encounters ripped straight from a fairytale. I loved that! While many movies attempt to distill mythological stories through a modern lens, The Green Knight embraces its mythology in a uniquely traditional fashion. This approach helps TGK feel timeless, as if it was an authentic retelling of stories you’ve probably heard all your life (no matter how well-versed you are in Arthurian legends).

The Green Knight is an exceptionally well made movie. It’s good art but not necessarily great entertainment. It’s probably not what you think it will be but, TGK ultimately succeeds with what it’s trying to do.

If you go into this film with proper expectations, The Green Knight is Pretty Darn Good.

What’s the best adaptation of King Arthur stories you’ve ever seen? What did you think of The Green Knight? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

REVIEW METRIC: Don’t bother; If you’re bored; Worth a watch; Pretty darn good; Must see; Watch it A.S.A.P.

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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