The Green Knight is written for the screen and directed by David Lowery. Adapted from the late 14th-century poem titled, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, the story follows the nephew of the legendary King Arthur. King Arthur’s headstrong nephew embarks on a daring quest to confront the Green Knight, a mysterious giant who appears at Camelot. Risking his head, he sets off on an epic adventure to prove himself before his family and court. The film is a stunning adaptation and infectiously fresh entry in the fantasy genre. Before getting into my full thoughts, which I’ll keep spoiler-free, I have to say this film certainly isn’t for everyone. Those who love it will likely absolutely adore it but for those that it doesn’t land for they probably won’t like it at all. Of course, there will be people in the middle, but I think most viewers will fall into one of these two camps.
Luckily for myself, I fall into the first group. I fell in love with this movie basically when the trailer dropped and am happy to say that the finished product lived up to the hype for me. On the technical side of things, the production is top-notch in every department. The set, costume, sound, and overall production design are all stellar. The cinematography, by Andrew Droz Palermo, is in a word, immaculate. There are so many shots that are essentially imprinted on my retinas, refusing to escape my thoughts. The use of camera movements, including a handful of fantastic oners, is also incredibly effective. All of the elements of production work together seamlessly to create the visual feast on display.
From lighting to costume, set design to camera direction, musical cues to visual and practical effects, it all forms the immersion, tone, and atmosphere that make this such a memorable experience. The score, composed by Daniel Hart, is sweeping, intimate, haunting, and powerful. With the music never overpowering but rather complimenting what is happening on-screen at every turn.
Dev Patel is of course the star of this film and it is mostly his film. He carries it on his shoulders with an incredibly nuanced and genuine performance. You wholly believe he is Sir Gawain from the second he appears on screen, and he brings such a charming and believable quality to every scene. While Dev shines throughout, the entire cast is robust and full of standout performances. Throughout the film, more people kept appearing, some of the most talented actors in the industry, and they all brought their A-game. The role each cast members play in the story helps accentuate and naturally build the world of the narrative.
Though Dev Patel is the main star and the rest of the cast supports the film tremendously as well, the actual world this story exists in is as much a character as any with spoken lines. The use of magic, the haunting and sometimes haunted locales, giants walking along mountain ranges, and a Knight seemingly made of the Earth itself are all elements that just exist with no explanation because they simply don’t need one. This is the world these characters live in, this is the story we’re seeing, and that’s all we need. That simple ask for belief sets the stage for every further inference or lack thereof the viewer chooses to dive into the rabbit hole that this film can be.
And let’s finally get into the narrative. I’ll avoid spoilers but The Green Knight is a methodical, meditative, meticulous, and psychological character study. It is perhaps the slowest film I’ve ever seen, and I mean that in the best way possible. It marinates in its themes, in its direction and nuance. It follows a Knight on his quest for honor, to uphold chivalry, and to finally have a story worth telling. It asks what it means to be courageous, to regret, and to persevere. It is a slow-burn fantasy adventure. It is both epic and intimate. It is both grounded and mythic, embracing the magic of Arthurian lore and from the beginning showing you exactly what kind of experience this will be.
The tone and atmosphere created and held throughout are what I consider the perfect direction for the fantasy genre right now. It’s serious and grounded while still utterly mythical. This movie is something I can only see getting better with time and repeated viewings as well. I’m sure there are countless themes, inspirations, and influences woven throughout that will only enrich my view of the film. While the movie could lean on the more well-known aspect of having King Arthur appear, it doesn’t. It remains its own tale focused on Sir Gawain and his journey and is all the better for it. Compelling from start to finish, The Green Knight was my first experience back in theaters and I couldn’t have asked for a better return to cinema.