The legend of King Arthur has inspired filmmakers from Monty Python to Walt Disney, John Boorman to Antoine Fuqua, but the recent tendency has been to ground it in reality: Joe Cornish’s The Kid Who Would Be King was set on a south London council estate and Guy Ritchie’s take on it had Arthur calling everyone ‘mate’. It’s refreshing, then, to see writer-director David Lowery (A Ghost Story) lean into the fantastical elements of the anonymous fourteenth-century poem commonly known as ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’.
In a master stroke of colour-blind casting, Dev Patel plays Gawain, feckless nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris), who rashly accepts a challenge from the eponymous enchanted warrior, beheading him and agreeing to receive a similar blow in a year’s time. As the momentous day approaches, however, Gawain begins to have misgivings – as well he might – and his journey to the Green Knight’s realm takes on an increasingly doom-laden dimension.
A tale told mainly via startling visuals requires an actor with a singularly expressive face, and Patel rises to the challenge. He strips away knightly courage to reveal the fear lurking behind every so-called ‘hero’. Lowery wittily interprets the original text, adding a sexual dimension and a better ending, and only once strays close to Python terrain (when the ever-brilliant Barry Keoghan pops up as a lolloping scavenger). It’s close to a cinematic holy grail.
In UK cinemas and on Amazon Prime Sep 24.