Review: 'The Green Knight' (2021) Dir. David Lowery
A24 throw a new spin on the legend of King Arthur and his knights; this time focusing on the King's nephew, Sir Gawain, and his quest across Ye Olde England full of danger and fantasy...
Young Gawain (Patel), nephew of King Arthur (Harris) of Camelot, yearns to earn his place as a knight and become a figure of great bravery, daring and nobility. With his love, Essel (Vikander), Gawain promises her the world when he finally becomes a Knight of the Round Table.
But one Christmas Day, Gawain takes up a challenge by the fearsome Green Knight (Ineson) in Camelot. Gawain strikes the Knight in combat, and in doing do gains a great reputation, but the Knight demands Gawain seeks him out in one year for the strike to be returned.
Setting off in search of the Green Knight to take up the final part of his challenge and prove himself to Arthur, Essel and mother Morgan le Fay (Choudhury), Gawain finds the world is not what he expected, and it will take great courage to survive the dangers and trials ahead...
Based on an anonymous 14th-century poem and directed, written, edited and produced David Lowery, known for work such as Pete's Dragon and A Ghost Story (and soon Peter Pan & Wendy), this is an eclectic piece of beautiful looking, but laboured, medieval fantasy. Yet even the fantasy isn't as fantastical as it could be for a ripping yarn of temptresses, witches, giants and noblemen. It's a journey that stumbles under it's own artistic flair and is lacking on quality when it comes to a story you can get invested in.
The hype surrounding this delayed film for UK audiences doesn't help, once again with the undercurrent making this to be something special when it really isn't. Looks wise, the film soars and the tone and spectacle of medieval England really leaps from the screen with buckets of atmosphere, drama and ghostly colour. Yet no amount of fancy type face, surreal imagery to represent dreams and feelings or supporting cast members who pop up along the way can maintain the viewer with great interest. There's a lack of real urgency, real threat, real reward or real adventure, and sadly Dev Patel may be a dashing and spunky new take on young hero Gawain, but he fails to captivate or command the screen over his over-long quest.
Capturing the bleak but beautiful splendour of Olde England (filmed in Ireland) makes this a treat for the eyes, basking in rich atmosphere thanks to cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo
On the fantastical side of things, The Green Knight takes one step forward but two steps back. There are many sequences that could really be something majestically, but they are often skipped over as a simple stepping stone in an otherwise bland journey. Towering female giants shrouded in fog look beautifully sinister and could have been something really dreamy to see play out more, but they are here and gone again. It also feels the same about the supporting cast of such talent like Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury and even Sean Harris who is probably the most grounded of all as King Arthur, using his minimal screentime to great effect with a powerful performance.
Ralph Ineson hides behind impressive make-up and prosthetics, using only his inimitable drawl as the mysterious Green Knight who is the crux to the journey of Gawain, but yet also used sparingly and for little effect other than mysterious monologues and cryptic messages left to entice those brave enough. Again, his time on screen is minimal but when he is taking up against Gawain, it's chilling and he could have been an even better character used more through the story than simply bookending it.
The journey is Gawain's and understandably so, but sadly there is little power in Dev Patel's performance to really hook you and retain investment. His arc from cocky and confident wannabe knight to timid, self-assured and often brave hero doesn't feel justified. Patel never really breaks through his comfort zone, bar a few of the more emotive scenes. Like the story, he simply ambles along from one set piece to the next and offers little in terms of real majesty or an immersive performance to grab you.
The vision of director Lowery is a brave one, and under the banner of A24 you know this isn't going to play by the book. While the elements are there for basing a 2hr film on a 14th century poem that offers many questions as to the truth about this journey - is it one taken for love, for nobility, for fame, for something higher - there is something lacking. The artistic tools used for dreamlike sequences, juxtaposed imagery and Shakespearean language used can be lost to the more casual viewer, or those looking for more of an adventure rather than artistic drama.
Strong cinematography and medieval lore fail to elevate the slow narrative, wasted supporting cast and lack of real adventure and emotional weight behind the story.
'The Green Knight' is a co-production between Ley Line Entertainment, Bron Studios, Wild Atlantic Pictures and Sailor Bear