The epic tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has been around since the 14th Century, told and retold in film and TV. This version is by visionary writer/director David Lowery, who brought us 2016’s Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story, and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.
Imagine an ancient tale told with the cinematic brilliance of Terry Gilliam, the bizarre vision of Yorgos Lanthimos, and the story structure of someone tripping on mushrooms. Yeah, it’s a truly off-beat, weird, and visually stunning movie that leaves you with SO many unanswered questions you want to scream. Lowery, whom I’m guessing was making this stuff up as he was filming it, has fanciful squire and nephew to the King, Gawain (Dev Patel) in a bit of a pickle. Y’see, his uncle, the old & feeble King (Sean Harris) just invited a guest into the castle. It’s the half-man/half-tree Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) who offers a challenge to all the knights present: try to cut off his head! Only Gawain accepts this goofy request and lobs this guy’s head off. BUT! The Knight picks his head up, says, “One year hence” to Gawain, and leaves with his noggin! Uh-oh!
Now, Gawain (who everyone calls “Garrawn” for some reason) has to wait until Christmas next year to go and find this nut job at the Green Chapel so he can get his own head chopped off. A year later with no directions, no map, and no GPS, Gawain heads out to find the Green Chapel and runs into a series of really strange encounters: a bunch of outlaws, Lady Winifred’s (Erin Kellyman) spirit who can’t find her head, a talking fox, some naked bald giants, and a noble couple at Castle Anthrax. . . sorry, it was just a normal castle, but it looked like Castle Anthrax! Anyway, living there is a pleasing Lord (Joel Edgerton), his sex-starved Lady wife (Alicia Vikander), and a creepy blindfolded old woman that nobody ever acknowledges! WTH? Who is she?
Gawain is given a “magical” belt by the Lady of the castle and it’s a good thing too, ’cause the next day he finds the Green Chapel and the Green Knight! SPOILER ALERT! Pulling a vision quest straight outta The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2, act three has Gawain living his life after going home, chickening out from his appointment with the Knight and his mighty ax. This is one very odd and long-winded disappointment of a movie. On one hand, you have some breath-taking cinematography by Andrew Droz Palmero of the Irish countryside. Just gorgeous! Then you have some great direction by Lowery, who has a deft hand with the camera and a unique style, not unlike Gilliam or Wes Anderson.
The acting here is also top-notch, starting with Dev Patel. He conveys so much with just a look, that much of the movie has no dialogue and doesn’t need to with Patel’s acting. Sean Harris is also great as, I’m guessing, King Arthur (it’s never said). His line delivery expresses SO much and Alicia Vikander plays two roles here: as Gawain’s girlfriend Essel and the horny castle Lady, both wonderful. Edgerton is fun to watch, but Kerryman, for her short role, is creepy-good.
But then you have that screenplay that makes no sense and loses you after the first five minutes that shows a burning house that is NEVER explained or brought up again. In fact, many, many scenes and characters are introduced, then dropped for no apparent reason other than to show you a really cool scene. I’ve seen plot holes, but these were something else. Nothing is explained; there are curious “title cards” for no reason, and you’re not sure if Gawain is dreaming, awake, tripping balls, or experiencing some kind of magic. And those Godzilla-sized howling naked bald giants? What. Was. That? Now, don’t get me wrong, I like strange movies. The Lobster is one of my favorites, but this is way, WAY out there! If you really want to see this (and why would you?), wait a few weeks when it slips onto a streaming service for free.
**Now showing only in theaters
Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1984)
It’s odd that director/co-writer Stephen Weeks decided that the last movie he would ever make would be the same movie he did before! Back in 1973, Weeks directed & co-wrote Gawain and the Green Knight, which flopped, so why remake it again? Did he think he could improve it?
Based loosely on the 14th Century British poem, this version plays out more like Monty Python and the Holy Grail with its unintentional corniness, terrible cinematography, wooden acting, laughable fight choreography, inept directing, and a script that is long, dull, and painfully boring. And for this Stephen Weeks gave up filmmaking forever? Oy! It starts with King Arthur (Trevor Howard) giving a great feast in the hall of Camelot, but lamenting that his knights aren’t as brave as they used to be. Right on cue enters the magical, mystical Green Knight (Sean Connery), dressed in a silly costume, bathed in a green light, and sporting a goofy wig from Party City, one of many horrible wigs in this movie. He challenges any knight to cut off his head to show bravery! Problem is, no knight wants in on this challenge. . . except one.
Lowly squire Gawain (Miles O’Keefe) accepts, gets knighted, and then lobs off the head of the Green Knight! BUT! Since this guy is magical, he simply puts his decapitated head back on his neck! Amused, the Green Knight gives Sir Gawain 12 months to solve a four-line riddle/poem or else he’ll kill him. From there, Gawain and his trusty squire, Humphrey (Leigh Lawson), go on a quest to not only find the Green Knight but solve that weird riddle. On their adventures, they meet the trickster sorceress, Morgan LaFey (Emma Sutton), the legendary Black Knight (Douglas Wilmer), the crazy bi-polar Lady of Lyonesse (Lila Kendrova) and her daughter, Princess Linet (Cyrielle Clair), who rescues Gawain from certain doom with a magical ring.
Gawain also meets the powerful Sage and his minion (David Rappaport & Mike Edmonds, both from Time Bandits), then has to rescue the Princess, only to have her stolen by fat and horny Prince Oswald (Ronald Lacey). But Oswald’s loony and loud father, Baron Fortinbras (John Rys-Davies) wants to use Linet as a bargaining chip against an enemy. Unfortunately, Gawain’s pathetic attempt to rescue Linet leads to her BBQ death and his super-guilt trip. Nonetheless, he gets over it with the help of another beautiful Princess in a nearby castle (apparently, they’re everywhere!). In the end, Gawain defeats Oswald, makes peace with Linet’s untimely passing, and the movie ends so abruptly, you’d swear something went wrong. But it didn’t.
This is a really bad movie. I mean, Rifftrax or MST3K would love to rip this sucker apart. Miles O’Keefe has the acting range of a potato and had to be dubbed (Weeks originally wanted Mark Hamil in the role!), his blonde wig is a joke, and the synthesized musical soundtrack is completely out of place. The only actors that lend any credibility and do a decent job are Connery, Peter Cushing as a Prime Minister, and Brian Coburn as comically larcenous Friar Vosper. The others either can’t act, overact, or just give line readings. I swear, I think Weeks used some of the rehearsal footage for the final edit. Lord knows how his 1973 film turned out, although I’m rather curious. . .