Sir Gawain


The David Lowery 2021 film The Green Knight

If you would like to make your own "true to the source material" cinematic version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, David Lowery's written and directed The Green Knight leaves that highway wide open.

In Lowery's retelling of the story, characters are reconfigured and streamlined, and the story itself is restructured to emphasis some of the original's sentiments, but in other ways a great deal is left out and a modern, 21st century attitude is at work. With the insertion of quite a bit which is wholly new and has no direct connection to the text at all, The Green Knight still follows the main plot line of the original telling of the Christmas party and then the long journey to the Green Chapel.

While an effort is there to hew to the spirit of the original tale and in that way Lowery has pulled off a bit a of a magic trick, with a title for the movie that not only indicates the titular character in green, but the ironic situation of this version of Sir Gawain. Here he is portrayed not as a developed and determined knight who has few lessons to learn, but as an aimless young man being looked upon by his mother and a king uncle who is a father figure, with the pair expecting much more out of the fellow (played by Dev Patel) that what the fellow himself is aware of within himself.

Visually the movie is a marvel of imagination. Creativity gives the interior scenes a carefully contrived hydrid-medieval look coupled with a sheer prettiness that dominates at times. The abundant outdoor scenes are usually gorgeous, whether verdant and green or in more desoalte locations. The scenery itself is a character in Lowery's movie, though it doesn't as fully exploit that element as did the original tale. But, then, Lowery's film is a significantly shorter version and wth this addition of new characters not in the original, we have varied subplots to attend to despite the usually long sections of the film with no-dialogue, as if Lowery the writer is rationing English to the audience.

Something of an art film sensibility deeply divides this film from any typical "sword and armor" film, and though the Green Knight's enormous axe is often on the screen, there are few swords or axes displayed or used in this movie.

Instead of directly taking on the difficulty of the original tale's ethos of word-keeping and the strategy and necessity of knightly courtesy, The Green Knight is a phantasy story more about hardship and confusion, and, surprisingly, is both anti-knight and pro-knighthood in a fashion that isn't in the original text (which contains its own smuggled critique). Fashioned within The Grren Knight is a cinematic dilemma that mimics the original story without trying to lift the whole scope of the challenge, instead bottling up the whole issue into whether Sir Gawain can face down the Green Knight at their apponted moment at the Green Chapel. Using movie trickery having to do with time displacement, Lowery tries to have his cake and eat it too as far as giving us a much more 21st century Sir Gawain facing his nemesis, and it is up to the individual viewer to decide if Lowery has pulled it off.

Related: Books about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight