Being relatively ignorant of Arthurian lore, I had no skin in the game for The Green Knight (2021), an epic fantasy that garnered scads of buzz last year. The accolades are more than deserved, especially if your filmic interests trend in quirky, artful directions. The film chronicles the adventures of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), an obscure young nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris). Gawain gets an opportunity to build his legacy when the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) issues a challenge in King Arthur’s court: any knight capable of landing a strike on him will win the Green Knight’s axe as a trophy, thereby making his reputation. However, in exchange, precisely one year later this victor must travel to the Green Knight’s chapel to receive an identical blow in return. Gawain accepts this dubious challenge, beheading the Green Knight to bolster his profile. But once the year passes and Gawain reluctantly rides off to fulfill the second part of the bargain, he’s forced to endure trials, both physical and psychological, to complete his quest with honor in the face of certain death.
The Green Knight is a lavish, fantastical film with a distinctive arthouse quality, which reminded me more of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (sans the absurdist comedy) than, say, Lord of the Rings. While at times there is a quirky sense of humor to the presentation, mostly it’s a serious, atmospheric fable which articulates a timely message about the temptation of allowing personal glory to triumph over basic integrity. Patel is a compellingly flawed hero, and the small supporting cast is bolstered by the likes of the ever-versatile Alicia Vikander and Barry Keoghan (who makes a distinctive mark as a shifty battlefield scavenger). A rich, memorable accomplishment in fantasy cinema.