(Originally posted August 9, 2023 by Isaac Payne)
I’m a big fan of Arthurian fantasy books and movies. I’ve been fascinated with the genre ever since I was a kid. But now that I’m older, my interest has shifted from the big sword-fights and knights on horseback to the intricacies of storytelling, and how current writers are bending the genre.
Arthurian legend is such a rich bank of subject matter, because a lot of the stories already vary in how they’re told. Some people take Le Mort d’Arthur by Thomas Mallory as gospel, and others are fans of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King.
I even took a stab at bending the genre with my story “Esclados the Red,” which follows a little-mentioned knight on his journey of self-discovery and acceptance with his sexuality. It was a fun story to write, and I was exhilarated to be writing in such a large—and loved—genre.
The Green Knight movie doesn’t go quite as far to bend the genre, but it certainly provides a fresh take on the centuries-old story of Sir Gawain.
The Green Knight Movie
The Green Knight film was released in theaters on July 30th, 2021. The film was written and directed by David Lowery, whose other work includes movies like Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon, and The Old Man & the Gun.
The Green Knight stars Dev Patel as Gawain, and is based on the 14th-century chivalric romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is by far one of the most popular stories in the Arthurian universe, and Lowery’s film was quite faithful to the source material in terms of plot.
But the movie really shines when it comes to the visual elements.
The Big Orange Cloak
Visually, the movie is stunning. I’ll give it that.
It alternates between very dark scenes inside foggy forests and dim castle halls, to bright yellow and green forests. The contrast is astounding, and the coloring was certainly something Lowery emphasized.
Speaking of color and contrast, the best example of this is Gawain’s big orange-ish cloak. Even when Gawain is trekking across dark landscapes, his orange cloak still sticks out, providing a pop of color to on otherwise drab scene.
There’s one scene in particular that really struck me as the pinnacle of cinematography.
Gawain jumps into a pool of water by moonlight, and at first the greenish water slowly fades to darkness. Then, out of nowhere, a flash of crimson light illuminates the pool, with Gawain floating in the water. It’s marvelously executed.
Arthurian fantasy books and movies have the potential to get quite grim, but The Green Knight is able to maintain a balance between moments of despair and fun adventure.
For the first part of Gawain’s journey to the Green Chapel, he treks alone through the medieval landscape. He crosses bloody fields and haunted forests, giving the film a dark, brooding vibe.
But, at a certain point, a red fox becomes Gawain’s traveling companion. Together, they continue to traverse the grim landscape, but now, the feeling is less of doom and more of adventure.
The cute fox adds an element of mystery to Gawain’s journey, but it also lightens the mood. I’m all for protagonists with animal companions, and this fits the bill.
The Green Knight Movie Review Score
Overall, I really enjoyed The Green Knight. It was fairly faithful to the source material while taking enough liberty to put a new spin on an old story.
Visually, the film was a work of art. The detail that went into color choice and lighting is clearly noticeable.
And the way the film is segmented into titled sections was a really neat idea, and it felt like a visual novel with distinct chapters, moreso than a single film.
I only had two gripes with The Green Knight.
First off, the pacing was a bit slow. The build up for the first hour was almost laborious, but the filmography was able to keep my interest until the story progressed into the really meaty sections.
Second, I was mildly confused at points. Flashforwards melded too-seamlessly with the present timeline, leaving me scratching my head for a few minutes before everything snapped back to reality. This really only matters at the end of the film, and it’s not even that big of a deal, just something that confused me a little.
All said and done, I give The Green Knight an 8/10. A solid rendition of the classic story, and hopefully the first in a new wave of Arthurian fantasy books and movies.