The Green Knight: Not so Honorable
Going into this movie, I admittingly did not know a lot about Arthurian lore, or The Green Knight's title character Sir Gawain. I can imagine that is how a lot of people entered this movie. Judging from the initial trailers, the movie came off more as a fantasy horror movie rather than a retelling of a chivalric romance. After watching the movie, I went online to read the original story of 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' to compare the two of them. After some research, it is moderately safe to say, a faithful adaptation this is not. The original story dealt with themes of unwavering honor, resisting temptation and staying true to one's words. Now, it can be argued that this movie is a revisionist, glossed over summary of a story and there is some validation to that, but that is an argument for another day.
David Lowery's (A Ghost Story) 2021 release The Green Knight is a film that, while pretty and well acted, does little to honor the story it is based off of.
The basic story of The Green Knight or as it is originally called 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight', is Gawain, whose King Arthur's nephew, accepts a challenge from the titular Green Knight on Christmas day to wound him on the promise the following year, he would return the same wound onto Gawain. Gawain chops off the knight's head and the following year, Gawain goes on a journey that tests his honor, chivalry and loyalty. It is a story that expresses the virtue and honor knights were supposed to have and the trials they would have to prove themselves in to show that they were fit to serve their King, country and god.
The movie on the other hand, does not follow the story exactly. A lot of key details from the original story have been changed for the movie which makes little to no sense. One of these would be early in the movie where Gawain's mother Morgan La Fey (Sarita Choudhury) gives him a green sash to help keep him safe. In the original story, that sash not only appears closer to the end of the story but was given to him as part of Gawain's test to resist temptation. Another point would be when Gawain is robbed of his horse, the green knight's ax and his equipment. After reuniting a spirit with its head, the ax re-appears. We never find out why the ax magically appears in front of him, it just does.
The ending of movie, avoid spoilers as best as I can, is not at all how the actual story ends. It is a wild deviation from the actual story ends. While there is some merit for the filmmakers to try and do their own thing, the last half hour of the movie disregards the story it is based off of, choosing instead to show that Gawain is barely redeemable. The ending of the film can be interpreted in different ways, but it creates more questions than it answers.
Giving the actors credit, they do portray their roles extremely well. Dev Patel as Gawain, though to some a controversial casting, does good work depicting a knight who has to go off to prove his honor. That being said, the character himself is not a great depiction of Gawain. In the stories, Gawain was loyal and honorable. Gawain in the movie is shown to be self centered, not loyal to his love Essel (Alicia Vikander), cowardly and surprisingly stupid. He walks into an ambush, asks for payment after a spirit asks him for kindness and allows himself to be seduced by the lady of the castle. Sean Harris's King Arthur is a poignant depiction of the legendary character, showing him as compassionate to his nephew and one who honors all the knights alongside him. While Sarita Choudhury and Alicia Vikander do well with their roles, they are not given enough screen time to fully flesh out their characters, especially seeing as Morgan La Fey, one of the most influential characters in Arthurian lore, is put into the background.
One of the things that can be praised about this movie is that the cinematography in this film is gorgeous. The still shots of dense forests, wide shots of landscapes and transitions in this film make it a beautiful film to watch. Each chapter in this movie is given it's own title, including an interlude that is not long enough to even take a sip of coffee.
The Green Knight is an ambitious film, taking a lesser known story in Arthurian lore and trying to adapt it for the modern screen. However, despite the cinematography being beautiful and the actors doing a decent job with their roles, the writing, character development and general plot suffer. This also does not serve as a faithful adaptation of the original story as specific plot points are altered greatly, the ending is drastically different and characters are misrepresented in the film. Should you watch this though? I would recommend that you watch the movie at least once, seeing as it does do try to tell a compelling story with beautiful cinematography, despite just being a surface level adaptation of an English legend.
The Green Knight is available to watch in theaters, Amazon Prime Video, Youtube and Apple TV.