To be honest, the tales of King Arthur haven’t fared too well on the big screen. The last truly noteworthy Arthurian adaption was John Boorman’s Excalibur, but that was back in 1981. Since then, we’ve had movies like First Knight, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Merlin, and Tristan + Isolde — some of which have been more successful than others, but none of them have seemed truly awe-inspiring in a way befitting of the Round Table.
Then along comes David Lowery (A Ghost Story, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) and his adaptation of The Green Knight. Even from the very first trailer, it looked like The Green Knight was going to be an Arthurian movie unlike any other. But would it be too unique? Too weird? Too much?
As someone who’s been a fan of Arthurian stories ever since high school, I really want The Green Knight to be a great movie that does the mythos — not that there’s one single Arthurian mythos, mind you — justice. Does it deliver on the promise of that original trailer, or will it be consigned alongside the rest of the King Arthur movies we’ve had to date.
Simon Abrams, “Seems more interested in the art direction than the storytelling”
Most of Gawain’s encounters are cut short by pseudo-iconic images and bombastic dialogue that are never as suggestive as they are vague. This is a movie that announces its serious intent and heavy-osity throughout, especially Daniel Hart’s throbbing score and Jade Healy’s stylized production design. But there’s only so much depth to the supposedly earthy side characters that help Gawain get to where he ultimately must go. Most of them talk like Tarantino characters who just discovered Chaucer, and they all look like Wes Anderson protagonists as re-imagined by a gifted art student mimic.
Charles Bramesco, “Revels in upending expectations”
Equal parts folk, prog rock and metal, The Green Knight takes place at the inflection point when one version of the old world was supplanted by the next. In David Lowery’s liberty-taking interpretation of the character’s 14th-century origin poem, the headstrong yet not-quite-valiant Sir Gawain (Dev Patel, superb) traverses an England caught between the mystical pagan religions and the nascent Christianity soon to change the face of the nation.
Hoai-Tran Bui, “A mesmerizing, sexy epic that feels unlike anything you’ve seen before”
In The Green Knight, the infinite mysteries of the natural world are reframed in an Arthurian retelling so strange and so seductive that it’s hard to stop the film from taking hold inside your brain and burrowing itself underneath your skin until your veins turn into roots and your blood changes to water. It’s a transportive experience, one that’s informed by Dev Patel’s infinitely curious and devastatingly sexy performance, and by director David Lowery’s painterly vision of a medieval time both rooted in history and embedded in magic.
Robert Daniels, “David Lowery’s interpretation of a Welsh myth is haunting and unforgettable”
His dazzling visuals, brilliant spectacle, and petrifying sequences are enrapturing. Likewise, Patel finally lays claim to the leading-man mantle so often bequeathed to him, yet so rarely earned. His career-defining performance should establish him as an actor made for big, grand epics. Lowery’s The Green Knight is cinema’s best Arthurian adaptation, which may matter only to literary scholars. Everyone else will have to settle for it being one of the best movies of 2021.
A.A. Dowd, “A spectacular mood piece”
This is, in the end, a spectacle of contradictions: as grandiose as the canon of tales to which it belongs but also oddly intimate in focus, with a modern psychology that clashes productively with its squalid evocation of the far bygone yesteryear. Ultimately, the film’s commitment to a sustained note of woozy, remote astonishment begins to wear a little thin; one could not be blamed for desiring an Arthurian adventure that didn’t unfold in such an unbroken state of art-movie portentousness.
David Ehrlich, “A chivalric romance for the ages”
The surreal genius of David Lowery’s “filmed adaptation of the chivalric romance by anonymous” (to quote the on-screen text) is that it fully embraces the unresolved nature of its 14th century source material, contradictory interpretations of which have coexisted in relative harmony for more than half a millennium. Is it a paganistic tale about the fall of man, or is it a Christ-like quest about the hope for salvation? Does it bow to chivalry as a noble bulwark against man’s true nature, or does it laugh at the idea that a knight’s code would ever be a sound defense against his deeper urges? Is it a misogynistic poem about manipulative witches, or a proto-feminist ode to women’s power over men?
To all these questions and more, Lowery rousingly answers “yes!”
Emma Stefansky, “A bold, gorgeous retelling of Arthurian legend”
Where the poem glosses over most of the journeying bits in favor of the tricky test bits, Lowery’s version of the story (typical in all of his movies) luxuriates in the windswept fields, the babbling streams, the misty forests so choked with greenery they seem untouched by human industry. In this story, as it likely was during the medieval age, nature is vast and full of unknown terrors and wonders, the old world of the woods that operates according to its own rules. “That is the world,” one character says, “and the world is fit for all manner of mysteries.” There is a sense of vitality barely contained, of another deeper, darker realm just beyond the reach of sight, fluttering at the corner of your eye.
Brian Tallerico, “A fascinating swirl of masculinity, temptation, heroism, and religion”
It’s a film that embeds the concept of storytelling and performance into its narrative — whether it’s a King asking for a heroic tale or children watching a puppet show — while also weaving its own enchanting spell on audiences. More than any movie in a long time, I would have immediately watched it again, but it’s also a film that really strengthens in memory, swirling around your brain like the falling flakes of the opening scenes.
Stephanie Zacharek, “An extravagant unicorn tapestry of a movie”
This movie’s source material was written by an unknown poet, circa 1400. Lowery (A Ghost Story, The Old Man & the Gun), in addition to fleshing out the story, puts his stamp all over it so confidently that the results could be annoying, if they weren’t so enchanting. His view of medieval England, by way of locations in Ireland, is a vision of verdant ivy and glowering cloud cover, of skeleton-littered battlefields and chambers brushed with torchlight. Lowery has cited Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev and Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V as inspirations; the film also hints at John Boorman’s Arthurian extravaganza Excalibur and Guillermo del Toro’s sylvan fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth. What Lowery ends up with is a little Led Zeppelin, a little Fairport Convention.
The Green Knight opens in theaters on July 30, 2021. Watch the trailer below.