The Green Knight is an adventure fantasy film based on one of the most famous legends of King Arthur. When a mysterious Green Knight marches into King Arthur’s court, he offers up a game to the knights of the round table. To prove himself worthy of his title, Sir Gawain takes the bait and cuts off the knight’s head, only to discover that he will have to embark on a dangerous journey while risking his own head the following year.
Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) is not like the other, more experienced and famous knights of King Arthur’s court. He’s honorable in his own way. With his true love Essel (Alicia Vikander) by his side, he’s a mama’s boy of sorts, living at home and going to church. And yet he’s still young and green, drinking too much and making brash decisions because he thinks he’s invincible.
His uncle, King Arthur (Sean Harris), summons him to sit at his side to learn a thing or two from his elders. But when an enormous, armored Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) enters the court on Christmas Day and challenges one of the knights to strike a blow, which he promises to return the following year, Gawain leaps over the table and cuts off the knight’s head.
Unfortunately, the Green Knight picks up his own head and ominously promises to return the favor the following Christmas, at his Green Chapel. This launches a quest for Gawain to do the right thing and prove his honor, even if it means traveling into unknown perils to find a mysterious location.
Along the way, Gawain encounters many tests that mainly force him to confront his own being and existence, becoming a man as he faces off against ghosts, giants, thieves, liars and even a talking fox. But nothing can stop Gawain from making good on his promise, even if he’s destined to die at the hands of the Green Knight.
Written and directed by David Lowery (A Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon) there’s more of a bent toward finding the deeper significance of The Green Knight and its meaning to man than chasing the sword-fighting action that most other King Arthur films rely on. But it works here, as the theme is blended seamlessly with gorgeous visuals, top-notch performances in costume, and a very earnest character arc thrust on the leading knight.
Despite a fairly long stretch of heady, slow introspection in the middle act, The Green Knight starts with a bang and relentlessly delivers action and offbeat adventure until the riveting end. Packed with as much emotional punch as physical, this is a fresh perspective on how it’s possible to tell a medieval story without resorting to mindless violence and cornball one-liners. Beautiful, haunting and off the beaten path, this film is a treat for the senses and resonates well despite its somewhat confusing premise.