Off With Your Head – The Green Knight Movie Review

The Green Knight is a fantasy film released in July of 2021, based on the Arthurian Tale of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” At the time of this writing, it is still in some theaters and is available for streaming rental.

I should preface this with a caveat—I’m pretty far from an Arthurian scholar or purist. I’m having a lot of fun with the Pendragon campaign I’m GM-ing, but I’m also the guy who is flipping through various sourcebooks or performing quick reads of Le Morte d’Arthur, so I understand what’s going on.

The story tells of an aging King Arthur’s nephew, Gawain, not quite yet a knight. At a Christmas feast in Camelot, the Green Knight arrives at the Round Table and challenges the knights to a game—any knight who can land a blow on him will win the challenge and win his green ax. However, a year hence that knight must travel to the Green Knight’s chapel where the knight will deliver an equivalent blow.

Gawain accepts the challenge and severs the knight’s head. However, that does not kill the knight, who takes his severed head and reminds Gawain of his agreement.

Most of the tale takes place a year later, as Gawain travels to the Green Knight’s chapel. Gawain, played by Dev Patel, is an imperfect character. He wants to live up to his uncle’s reputation, but he’s happiest with a commoner from the brothel. He has a magic girdle that will hopefully protect him from any blow from the Green Knight.

Gawain goes on an adventure that would fit in nicely with your typical Pendragon RPG campaign. He deals with bandits, ghosts, magic foxes, giants, and strange lords and ladies. He is often over his head and is sometimes moved by the events around him instead of seizing the initiative for much of the story.

On the whole, I greatly enjoyed the movie. Dev Patel was a delight as Gawain, capturing a clear desire to be a hero and a true knight but showing many imperfections and moments of fear. Despite these imperfections, he shows an impressive persistence in finding his way back to his quest whenever he is led astray of it. The Green Knight seems more a force of nature—and seems actually to be treelike.

One complaint I have with the movie is it is awfully dark—many of the scenes are lit only by torches, candles, or lamps and, while realistic, makes it hard to see anything at times. However, this approach has definite payouts, such as when Gawain wields the gleaming Excalibur.

The movie is unlikely to appeal to purists, as it freely takes liberties from the traditional version of the tale. It also gives an ending with a fair amount of ambiguity—I’ve seen different people walk away with very different interpretations of how the movie ends. After seeing the movie, I spent a fair amount of time perusing the internet for articles discussing the movie, plot points, analyses of characters, etc.

Probably the biggest praise I can give is my wife and I found ourselves still talking about it several weeks after seeing the movie—I love seeing “popcorn flicks,” but The Green Knight aspires to be something more.

~ Daniel Stack

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