On Christmas Day, an otherworldy creature known as the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) appears in the court of Camelot and offers a challenge to the knights of King Arthur (Sean Harris). Whichever knight strikes him, the Green Knight must be able to return the blow one year hence. Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) takes on the challenge and sets out on a journey to meet him a year later...
Unlike science fiction, which uses the future and the trappings of it to speak to our present, fantasy has never really been all that concerned with what goes on in our time. Sure, 'The Witcher' might have flashes of contemporary political commentary and 'The Lord of the Rings' may have taken inspiration from the horrors of World War I. But, by and large, fantasy as a genre has always followed its own heartbeat. In this thinking, it is less about the many and more about the individual.
'The Green Knight' is very much a character study, mixing arthouse cinema and conventional fantasy genre trappings into the brew, for something truly unique. Even comparing it to 'Excalibur' as we did in the title doesn't do it half justice. 'The Last Temptation of Christ' is probably a better comparison, but even at that, it's still not grasping it fully. 'The Green Knight' is so much weirder than anything concocted in quite a while, that it's safe to say it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. In fact, 'The Green Knight' makes it clear from the beginning that this isn't going to be your typical sword and sorcery jam. Sir Gawain, played wonderfully by Dev Patel, is a perennial f*ck-up, who has done no great deeds in the court of King Arthur, drinks himself to excess on a regular basis, and is generally the weak link in the Round Table. Even when he grabs Excalibur and fights the Green Knight, everyone around him rolls their eyes at him because he can't see the obvious trickery going on in the very challenge offered to him.
David Lowery's script syncretises the pagan history of England and the Christian history of the world, the conventional portrayal of knights on cinema to the recorded history, and even what we think of war, death, honour, and sacrifice. It's heady stuff, and not all of its ideas form as cleanly as they should, but it is nevertheless bold and refreshing to see it being attempted. It often moves at a glacial pace, and is more concerned with atmosphere than plot progression, diverting often for a few minutes to simply sit in a scene just because it looks so good. That might seem indulgent, and it probably is, but it acts as hypnosis to bring you further into its world.
As mentioned, Dev Patel is electric as the wayward Gawain. He wants to be a hero so much, but can never seem to keep himself from botching the whole thing up. Alicia Vikander, in a double role here, is both alluring and alarming in her presence. Ralph Ineson's deep, rumbling voice does more in a scene than most actors can in an entire body of work. The design and makeup that surrounds him is frightening, but yet it works so well you're never entirely sure what you're looking at. Sean Harris and Kate Dickie both breathe life into the story as Arthur and Guinevere, while our own Barry Keoghan turns up for a scene and gives an offbeat but spirited performance.
For something like 'The Green Knight', seeing it at home is the completely wrong way to experience it. You need to be locked in a dark room with it, and let the gorgeous cinematography, the soundtrack, the weirdness of it all, just wash over you.
Seek it out. Make the journey. You won't regret it.