Barking up the Wrong Tree – The Green Knight Review

One young man looking to prove himself; a king looking for a successor; and a knight waiting for his forfeit.

TitleThe Green Knight
Director: David Lowery
Genre: Adventure, Epic, Fantasy, Mythology.
Main Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Ralph Ineson, Sarita Choudhury
Runtime: 130 mins.
IMDb rating: 6.6/10.
My rating: 7/10.
Quick summary: Young Gawain, not yet a knight of the round table, is keen to prove himself to his uncle, King Arthur. On Christmas eve, a mysterious knight made of bark and moss interrupts the royal celebrations. He challenges all of those present to attempt to strike him in combat. In return, he is allowed to return the same blow one year and one day later. Gawain steps up to the challenge and beheads the Green Knight in one fell swoop. Unfortunately and predictably, the Knight rises from the ground, picks his head up off the floor and tells Gawain that he will see him in a year’s time. Will the young warrior keep his side of the bargain? Will he too lose his head? Who is the Green Knight?

This star-studded fantasy epic stars Dev Patel as Gawain before he became one of the fabled knights of the round table. He is thrust into a dangerous adventure when a giant knight that looks like he was carved from a tree arrives to Christmas dinner unannounced. Having beheaded the knight in a friendly game of ‘front hand/back hand’ (any Key and Peele fans in here??), Gawain must find the knight in his castle and let him return the blow. Treacherous thieves, restless spirits and deceitful lords and ladies await Gawain as he attempts to make a name for himself and begin his legendary journey.

Not all is as it seems in this stylish film directed by David Lowery. Based on the medieval poem ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, the American director, editor and writer makes some small tweaks to the plot to deliver a movie laden with imagery and clever tricks where nothing can be truly believed.
Throughout the film characters, weapons and magical belts are lost and reappear as if by magic, helping Gawain on his journey to meet the Green Knight. Alicia Vikander plays two characters at opposite ends of society. She initially shows up as Essel, Gawain’s commoner love, who he will more than likely never be with due to his standing in the court. She appears again as The Lady of the House near the end of his quest, tempting him into bed with her in exchange for something he wants. It is hard to know if Gawain really can’t see that these two women are exactly the same or if is just something the audience can see, but it does show Gawain’s weakness so close to the end of his task. Vikander does manage to play both characters significantly differently which lends some credibility to the two roles, which is a hard thing to do.

Joel Edgerton is excellent in pretty much anything he is in and this is no different. Coincidentally, he played Gawain in the 2004 film King Arthur, based on the remaining knights of the round table’s final battle against the Saxons. He plays the Lord of the House in this Arthurian tale and is suitably charmingly creepy. At times the viewer may think he is the Lord that beheaded and raped Erin Kellyman’s St. Winifred in a fit of unrequited rage. Some may think he is in fact the Green Knight in disguise giving Gawain one last challenge before his debt is up. It is never explicitly stated one way or another which is fitting as it allows the viewer to decide.

Ralph Ineson plays the terrifying Knight looking for a debt to be paid

In the medieval poem it is revealed at the end that the Lord is indeed the Green Knight. He lets Gawain go after he gives up the green belt, which has protective powers that will not let him be harmed, that was given to him by the Lady of the House on one of her attempts to seduce the young Knight. The poem paints a much more gallant version of Gawain, with Lowery and Patel opting for a more inexperienced and frightened young man.
Patel is another solid actor like Edgerton and does not disappoint in this. His transition from terrified and bewildered boy to battle hardened and stoic man in the final scenes of the film, aided of course by make up and lighting, is impressive.

On an Irish note, Barry Keoghan gives another memorable supporting part in a major motion picture. He plays a scavenger roaming the battlefields and relieving the dead of things they no longer have any use for. Keoghan is definitely a rising star who is already far above many of his peers. It would be great to see him lead in a few more bigger budget films.

If you are into your fantasy, medieval adventure movies then this is right up your alley. It is something that you will have to pay attention to, though. Even scrolling on your phone absentmindedly for a few minutes may lead to missing some small throwaway line or flashing scene that will cause confusion towards the end. Check it out on Amazon Prime if you are looking for something to watch this week.

Alicia Vikander plays two polarised roles in this film

The Green Knight would make a fantastic Halloween costume and I am only just realising this as I make the final edits to this review. A wasted opportunity that I won’t remember and nobody will get next year…

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