The Green Knight (3 stars)

The Green Knight

Dev Patel takes on the titular adversary in David Lowery's artful take on an Arthurian myth

Following on from his outstanding work in The Personal History of David Copperfield, Dev Patel continues to challenge what a role for a British-Asian actor looks like, as he assumes the lead in a medieval yarn inspired by a lesser-known Arthurian myth. Based on the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it introduces us to the nephew of King Arthur, who undertakes a mind-bending journey and comes up against a formidable and fantastical adversary.

The film is the latest from writer-director David Lowery, the American indie darling who has proved himself a versatile and unpredictable filmmaker, alternating between leftfield dramas like Ain't Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story and more amiable or commercial films like The Old Man & The Gun and Pete's Dragon that have nevertheless been infused with a certain amount of alternative charm.

Patel plays Gawain with just the right combination of fecklessness, bewilderment and pluck. 'I fear I'm not meant for greatness,' this brave young nobleman worries, as he places himself in significant peril in an attempt to craft his own legend. He's also, no doubt, trying to impress his uncle (Sean Harris, cast against type as a kindly and ailing King Arthur, a part to which he brings considerable poignancy). When the titular creature (a heavily disguised Ralph Ineson) challenges the Knights of the Round Table to a 'Christmas game', Gawain alone answers the call and beheads the beast, only to be compelled to face this immortal being again one year hence.

The story contemplates and critiques notions of greatness, heroism and honour and is consistently presented in a striking and idiosyncratic way – credit to A Ghost Story's cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo for his work here. As Gawain endures nightmarish visions and scenarios, The Green Knight is less scary than stark, chilling and oppressively ominous. The rest of the cast do good work in support of the excellent Patel, including a suspiciously avuncular Joel Edgerton, Barry Keoghan as a quest-jeopardising scavenger and, a dodgy accent aside, a randy and mischievous Alicia Vikander impresses in a dual role.

With a generous runtime of 130-minutes and sometimes ponderous pacing, The Green Knight has its patience-testing moments. If stunning visuals mask a small budget (particularly for a fantasy film), the eccentric characters and relative modesty make it seem almost Python-esque at points. Despite being consistently off-the-wall, it is largely humour-free, and slightly poorer for it. But the film's haunting imagery is hard to shake and the freshness it brings to the medieval adventure flick shows appropriate amounts of courage.

Available to watch in cinemas from Friday 24 September.

The Green Knight

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • US / Ireland
  • 2h 5min
  • 15
  • Directed by: David Lowery
  • Written by: David Lowery
  • Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, Ralph Ineson
  • UK release: 24 September 2021

Fantasy adaptation based on the Arthurian legend.