Movie Review: The Green Knight (2021)

Þis kyng lay at Camylot upon Kryst-masse,
With mony luflych lorde, ledes of þe best,
Rekenly of þe rounde table alle þo rich breþer,
With rych revel oryȝt, & rechles merþes.
But then this great green guy gate-crashes
(crazy pre-Christian Celtic character),
And feces would fain fall into fan
But fans haven’t been invented yet, yo.

Title: The Green Knight

Cast and Crew

Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery, adapted from an anonymous fourteenth-century work.

Dev Patel as Gawain
Anaïs Rizzo as Helen
Ralph Ineson as Green Knight
Joe Anderson as Paris
Alicia Vikander as Essel / The Lady
Noelle Brown as Madam
Sarita Choudhury as Mother1
Sean Harris as Arthur
Kate Dickie as Guinevere
Erin Kellyman as St. Winifred
Barry Keoghan as Scavenger
Nita Mishra as Older Sister
Tara Mae as Middle Sister
Atheena Frizzell as Youngest Sister
Chris McHallem as Lord in Waiting
Emmet O’Brien as Merlin
Brendan Conroy as Taverngoer
Donncha Crowley as Bishop
Emilie Hetland as First Thief
Anthony Morris as Second Thief
Joel Edgerton as Lord
Helena Browne as Sightless Woman

1. She receives the billing of “mother.” Which mother? Gawain’s, in legend, is Morgause, Arthur’s half-sister. According to the director, however, he intended her to be the more notorious Morgana, usually presented as Arthur’s half-sister or a step-sister. The change makes sense, given Morgana’s role in the original text.

Let’s face it: collectively, the source legends are not celebrated for their consistency.


The mysterious Green Knight issues a challenge to Arthur’s court as a Christmas game.
Gawain accepts the challenge and becomes a legend.

High Point

Arthurian Legend takes place in Celtic Britain, but most retellings dress the characters and culture with medieval trappings. That is true even of the original Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the works of Sir Thomas Mallory. If the film deviates from its source material, even its new and modernized elements gesture to a world as understood by the people of another time and place, beautiful and beguiling. This film believes in its world, however, fantastic, and draws us into it.

Low Point

The film features some fascinating dreamlike, magical digressions, some of them clearly visions. The others? To quote Winifred, “what’s the difference?” Possibly plenty, but I found it features a few too many of these. Lowery appears to have had his own quest, to make the fantasy film equivalent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, while keeping within two hours. He only partially succeeds.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 They’re adapting a fourteenth-century work based on an even older legend. They do add some elements of their own, and the results certainly play as unusual among fantasy films.

Effects: 5/6 The film features a weird range of effects, CGI and practical. These include a bewitching fox and some staggering backgrounds. Some of the magical effects seem like very elementary CGI, but maybe that is the effect they wanted. What do visions look like?

Production: 6/6 This film combines elements of the Celtic World with the late middle ages, and seasons them with a tablespoon of art-house and a pinch of last week’s fantasy role-playing game. It works if you remember you’re watching the depiction of a legend, and not history.

The score features impressive music, not from a specific period, but evoking some past, mythic era.

Acting: 6/6 We have a convincing, if not always honourable Gawain (he has to learn something if he is to become a knight), and Patel gives an impressive lead performance.

Story: 4/6 The film plays with and deconstructs the heroic legend, while coming around to some of the original tales’ themes and plot points. It’s worth seeing, but it doesn’t entirely hold together.

Emotional Response: 5/6

Overall: 5/6 We enjoyed the film and it prompted discussion. We’ll probably see it again at some point in the future.

Not everyone will feel the same way.

In total, The Green Knight receives 34/42