A long time ago in the fictional land of Camelot, a mysterious green knight rides into the castle of King Arthur during a New Year’s Eve feast. After an enigmatic speech, he proposes that a loyal knight of the king tries to behead him, to which Sir Gawain accepts, striking the green beast in one fail swoop of his axe. Though when the creature rises from the floor and lifts his own decapitated head from the floor, he announces that in one year they must meet again at the Green Chapel where the knight will return to take the head of Gawain.
This ancient mythic morality tale is a culturally resonant one that explores the virtue of honour, even in life’s darkest challenges. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight would become a template for the popular adventure story, where a lowly knight would go on a quest for integrity, a coming-of-age adventure in which he would face fierce challenges and foes. An official author for the tale has never been discovered which only adds to the story’s strange qualities, an iconic piece of literature in the myth of Arthurian legend.
Fantasy mastermind behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy J.R.R. Tolkien would call the story “a window of many coloured glass looking back into the middle age”, even producing a definitive edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight whilst working as a professor at the University of Leeds. Eliciting themes of mastering one’s own destiny, embracing the unknown as well as environmentalism, many of the original texts’ ideas would later act as clear inspiration for the expanded universe of Middle Earth.
Neither was Tolkien’s story the only one which would be inspired by the classic mythical tale, spawning several films and TV series, not least the upcoming A24 produced independent project from director David Lowery, The Green Knight. Although we may have to wait until later in the summer to see how Lowery’s Gawain fairs against the mythical creature, there is another film adaptation of the story, 1984s Sword of the Valiant.
With a now-iconic ensemble cast including John Rhys-Davies, Wilfrid Brambell, Ronald Lacey, Peter Cushing and Sean Connery as the infamous Green Knight, the fantasy drama feels more like a theatrical performance on London’s West End. One would be forgiven for shouting ‘he’s over there!’ as Connery’s beastly villain bursts through the castle’s door at the start of the film, covered in what looks like glowing green moss and a healthy slathering of fake tan.
“These young eyes have seen nothing of the world, shall I snuff out their light,” Connery snarls to the brave Gawain in Flash Gordon-esque cheesy melodrama before offering him redemption for his failure in the form of a riddle. Instead of embarking on a mysterious adventure, Gawain sets out to solve the meaning of the wordy enigma that reads, “Where life is emptiness, gladness. Where life is darkness, fire. Where life is golden, sorrow. Where life is lost, wisdom”.
With the film now stripped of its mystery, the quest of Gawain turns into a physical representation of the riddle, with the knight gaining in knowledge as he overcomes each hurdle. It’s a rudimentary film that feels more like the basic lore behind an elaborate theme park ride, rather than for a feature-length film, though it is not striving for greatness nor wants to be, providing a basic, pantomime version of the classic tale which certainly, in parts, entertains.
A24’s upcoming Green Knight however looks to be taking the tale of Arthurian legend far more seriously, helmed by A Ghost Story’s David Lowery and starring Dev Patel as the brave knight Gawain.
By the looks of the film’s trailer, it looks as though the mythical world of Camelot is set to come to life with fantasy wonder.