The Green Knight (2021)

I watched it for Dev Patel! Was hoping for lots of Excalibur style dry ice and knights on horseback and mythicness. What I got was not quite what I expected.

Gawain is a slovenly, self-indulgent knight, in possible court of King Arthur, who is challenged to a quest by a leftover treebeard from Lord of the Rings. This is a time when pagan religion and Christianity mix and are up against each other and magic is possible.

Gawain decides to go on a quest to find the treebeard knight at Christmas and well, who knows what might happen? Slow to start with; when the quest kicks in, the film gets going. I loved the children chasing alongside Gawain as he leaves the safety of the castle for the open road (clearly Roman!) and his telling them to go back in his manner, cos this is his quest. Immediately he is then set upon by thieves and loses his horse, and almost his life — the sense of being abandoned to die was palpable and I honestly didn’t know how Gawain was going to get himself out of that one. We really feel his life and death struggle as he limps across the ground to free himself. The beautiful pop of yellow of his cloak against the darkness of the time was quite something — I’m glad he got it back!

Not sure what the naked giants and heaps of dry ice were about. I thought he might hitch a ride a la Gulliver’s Travels, but he didn’t. Anyway….Gawain finds shelter in a castle where he is at risk from both husband and wife. I had to look this up because I thought they’d just sexed it up — but yes it is there and more — in the original story - more kissing. Gawain betrays his wife, (with someone who looks like his wife), who seems to like to dress as his page for some reason? It’s all very Chaucer as he faces not only enjoying his Lord’s generosity, but his wife too! The relationships are quite muddled as Gawain is part son, part lover, part brother in this stronghold — no wonder he flees. He’s given a belt to protect himself…

At one point he’s led by a talking fox — who tells him not to go on. Ofcourse he ignores the talking fox, cos what does it know?!!! More extraordinary is his haunting or vision of St Winifred; a dead young woman dishonoured by men (a knight), who’s been decapitated. This part was quite astonishing — we really feel Gawain learning about himself, about how to respect women and what men are capable of.

Then it all goes a bit choose your own adventure as Gawain dreams that he fails his quest, becomes King as the honourable King Arthur and his wife die, and betrays his wife/page as soon as he gains a son by her, marrying for status and influence instead, ending up besieged by enemies…and dead in dishonour, headless…But it was all a dream — Gawain submits to the treebeard, only to keep his life!

I think what this film does well is time — otherness, that the past really is different from us, and waiting — Gawain has to wait for the trickling water to revive the treebeard knight to life. Gawain loses track of time and doesn’t know when Christmas is.

The styling is really something — it looks very Anglo-Saxon-esque rather than Vikings or Game of Thrones. But it lacked colour — the very stone walls miss the colour and paint and sheer gaudiness that would have been there, dancing in the firelight. It does portray the lack of light during the winter months, but perhaps misses the firelight. Although the cinematography was very fine and really reflected the changing seasons…

Alice Vikkander’s fashion I’m not sure about either — is she trying to be a Roman matron? Overall it lacks the spirituality I think needed for Gawain — surely he should learn something; this Gawain I’m not sure does entirely, and what was the point of his quest? Here it was more the impact of his actions on people — the sheer horror of his abandonment of his wife/page once she’d produced a son was appalling. Gawain is shown isolated on his throne — he has everything he ever wanted (just like King Arthur): and yet has lost himself, his integrity, his honour?

In the original story, there is a point and an application — reading this synopsis, there’s a lot I didn’t get —

But the original story is even more extraordinary and some of this was left out of the film!



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