The year was 2020. The month was May. The A24 studio adaptation of The Green Knight, directed by David Lowery and starring Dev Patel was due to be released. The film’s release was delayed by the pandemic and so we waited. And we waited some more. “This was supposed to be the Summer of Dev!” many cried in sadness. How long would we have to wait to experience the pleasure of seeing a handsome actor be nervous while also being lusted after by his various peers?
Finally, in the year 2021 our patience (suffering) was rewarded with a solid release date of July 30th, 2021. I’ve experienced The Green Knight on the big screen and. I can officially say that the Summer of Dev Patel has officially begun.
The film as penned by Lowery sees Gawain (Patel), nephew of the great King Arthur sent on a journey. To fulfill a promise made to the titular Green Knight, one year after an encounter at Arthur’s Christmas celebration. The floronic knight arrives at the celebration issuing an invitation to play in his “game”. He challenges any in King Arthur’s court to attempt to land one blow against him. With the condition being that in one year, the attacker must seek him out at his chapel so that he may return the blow in kind.
Gawain, seeking to prove his worth beyond his blood, takes up the challenge and manages to cut the Knight’s head from his shoulders. However the inhuman Knight rises and holds his head out to Gawain only stating. “One year hence.” before leaving to wait out the year. The rest of the film depicts Gawain’s travels and the tribulations he faces as he must choose whether it is better to die with honor than it is to survive with shame.
As someone only just barely familiar with Arthurian lore as a whole, several of the characters snuck up on me. For instance, knowing and understanding Gawain is Arthur’s nephew. His mother is so plainly introduced that it takes one a moment to realize that she is the sorceress Morgan La Fey. It also takes some time to understand how that will come into play within the film. There are many moments that seem foreshadowed or obvious if you’re familiar with the lore. But even those moments still take you by surprise through the way events play out.
It seems obvious to Dev Patel’s performance in this movie. Most of the film sees him isolated from the world, save for the occasional companion, obstacle or temptation meant to throw Gawain from his path. However, I can still say for certain that this is one of his finest performances to date. While strongly a fantasy adventurer film. The Green Knight also boasts strong comedic moments that accent the dramatic tension throughout the film.
You want to see Gawain earn the honor he so desires. But you also see the obvious folly in the presumed end that his journey will take him too. He’s headstrong, naive and a bit careless, but manages to bring the audience to his side. This works because he’s just trying to do what he believes will make him a true knight in the eyes of his King. Patel’s charming presence solidifies the both pathetic and sympathetic nature of the desperate Gawain. Even though he is partly responsible for getting himself into trouble.
Aside from Patel’s fantastic performance, the stand outs were absolutely Ralph Ineson as The Green Knight. Erin Kellyman as Winifred and Alicia Vikander pulling double duty as Gawain’s paramours Esel and the Lady are also amazing. The costuming and effects for the Green Knight blended with Ineson’s earth trembling voice leave quite the impression, despite the character’s few appearances in the film.
The latter seeing his voice take a more gentler tone as he once again meets Gawain. Kellyman was a wonderful surprise to see. Her character Winifred appears to interrupt Gawain’s journey by requesting him to perform a task for her sake. Some of the more comedic moments in the film take place when these two are on screen together. Vikander comes close to stealing the film from under Patel with her double performance.
There is a moment in the later half of the film where she gives a haunting monologue about the nature of Gawain’s journey and his reasoning for taking it that struck me in a way I didn’t expect. I’ve only seen Vikander in a few other films and was not familiar with just how good of an actress she really is.
The use of color and set placement throughout the film is breathtaking. Even in the scenes that take place in the dead of night where things seem to be almost too dark. There is an overally purpose that sets the tone of the moment. The often literally head spinning cinematography and moody score perfectly set the atmosphere alongside everything else within the film. The film also draws you into Gawain’s perspective by allowing you to experience his exploits first hand with clever draws and cuts. It all helps to make The Green Knight feel like an elaborate play on an endless stage.
After a year and some change waiting to see if this movie would live up to its expectations, I am happy to say that it met and surpassed them in ways I wouldn’t have guessed. It serves as a primary vehicle to showcase Patel’s talent as well as that of everyone involved. I look forward to whatever Patel’s next performance may be and whatever David Lowery chooses to make next. For now, I can only recommend that if you have even a passing interest in wider Arthurian lore, that you see The Green Knight whenever you get the chance.
If you enjoyed this review, check out Bobby’s review of Gunpowder Milkshake here.