The green knight, 2021.
Directed by David Lowery.
Starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Sarita Choudhury, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson.
This ancient story is brought to screen by a visionary director, as Gauvain (Dev Patel) chooses to confront The green knight (Ralph Ineson). Featuring medieval monarchs, inspired visuals, and a hero who needs a purpose, it harkens back to simpler times when kingdoms could be won and lost on a whim.
There is something about David Lowery’s film that defies description. He combines elements of the quest narrative, switches to Arthurian pastiche, and throws giants for good measure. The pace is carefully considered, so that what seems slow at first makes more sense as events progress. Smog-filled wasteland, arid plains and inundated quagmires form an ever-changing landscape, bringing a unique reality.
Taken from the pages of medieval folklore before being embodied, the images evoked by the director of photography Andrew Droz Palermo are of a sumptuous quality. The exteriors of the castles are disturbing but formidable, the landscapes arid but in possession of a pulse. Lives have been lived, battles fought and families bereaved by the story written in this cinematic fable.
Dev Patel, Sean Harris, and Alicia Vikander don’t forge character so much as they exist in a world of legends. The conversations are whispered in confidence, the banquets are held in strict respect of the hierarchy, while the heroes are born of blood. In many ways, this harkens back to classic imagery depicted in Norse poems such as Beowulf.
Feats of strength and trials of courage have been told around campfires for centuries, where individuals faced untenable obstacles or were called upon to perform selfless acts of heroism. The green knight draws directly from this vein and stages it for two hours of true entertainment. Dev Patel’s Gawain is our timeless hero against Ralph Ineson as The green knight. A mystical being in search of salvation but loaded with purpose. It is their meeting and Gauvain’s subsequent journey that provides the backbone of this fable in the simplest terms.
However, David Lowery does more with it than any audience might think possible. Doppelgangers, talking animals, and Shakespearean mystics all play their part, while stylistic flourishes and fluctuating color palettes make the visuals interesting. In many ways The green knight looks like a timeless film, more suited to a golden age of Hollywood long gone.
Films including The lion in winter, Camelot and that of Richard Burton Beckett feel more in tune with The green knight, so large is David Lowery’s canvas. Sean Harris does a lot to underscore this by carrying the weight of Divine Rule with a melancholy heart. Heavy hangs the head which carries the crown, because it remains perpetually separated from its subjects. Pitched battles are celebrated, wars have been fought, and this world possesses an everlasting quality, which has rarely been captured with such confidence.
Decorator Jade Healy, who recently worked on Marriage story and A beautiful day in the neighborhood, imbues this film with a lived quality. Class divisions are clear, gender definitions are centered on men and yet women have their own unique power. Whether this manifests through Alicia Vikander’s nuanced performance, or reflected in Gauvain’s mother, this film approaches identity on a multitude of levels.
David Hart’s score adds yet another layer of character to a film that comes to life in the silences between conversations. Organic auditory collisions punctuate the stages, giving the visuals an edgy quality that never allows the audience to settle in. Joel Edgerton’s awkward encounters between Gwain and Lord are given extra resonance due to his haunting arrangements, which only gain strength over time.
Say that The green knight is a masterful piece of storytelling, it’s selling it short. There is such intricacy woven into its fabric, that repeat viewings are not only recommended but essential. For those who have worried about the many delays, worry no longer, as it was definitely worth the wait.
The Green Knight arrives in theaters and is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video starting September 24.
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