The Green Knight Looks Like an Intense Take on Arthurian Legend

The films seems to be going for an aesthetic that walks the line between gritty realism and fairy tale-ish otherworldliness.

You’d think that given the rich mythology surrounding King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, as well as the various literary takes on it over the years (e.g., T. H. White, Howard Pyle), you’d think that we’d have lots of good King Arthur movies. Alas, such is not the case.

But perhaps David Lowery’s The Green Knight can reverse that trend. An adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight — one of the most famous Arthurian stories — The Green Knight stars Dev Patel as Sir Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur and one of his bravest and most headstrong knights. In the original tale, Gawain is accepts a deadly challenge from the titular Green Knight; after he beheads (but doesn’t kill) the knight, he must wait a year and a day in order to face his own beheading. In the ensuing adventure, Gawain finds his honor and loyalty as a knight challenged.

Over the years, the original story and its themes have been analyzed by numerous scholars (including one J. R. R. Tolkien), resulting in various interpretations (e.g., it’s a deconstruction of chivalric code and honor, it’s a proto-feminist tale featuring powerful female characters, it’s a criticism of 14th century English colonization).

I don’t know much of that heady stuff will be in the movie. But based on the trailer, it’s going to look incredibly cool and be very intense. Just the visuals alone are outstanding. Lowery — who also directed Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon, and Ghost Story — seems to be going for an aesthetic that walks the line between gritty realism and fairy tale-ish otherworldliness.

I doubt we’ll ever see a ​“classic” take on King Arthur and his knights à la Howard Pyle, but I’ll settle for a King Arthur film that isn’t just a paint-by-numbers action film or pointless modernization — and The Green Knight looks like it might be just that. It arrives in theaters on May 29.