David Lowery

The Green Knight

02/10/21

Amazon Prime

Has there ever been a more divisive movie than The Green Knight?

Unceremoniously pulled from its intended theatrical release and plonked onto Amazon Prime, it’s interesting to look at the audience reviews, which feature a plethora of five star ratings and an equal number of one stars. The latter break down into three distinct groups. Many people decry that the film is simply ‘too dark’ for their modest screens – and I have to agree that, if ever a film demanded to be seen at the cinema, this is the one.

More worrying are the blatantly racist comments about the casting of Asian actor, Dev Patel, as the ‘quintessential British hero’ Sir Gawain. But this is a work of chivalric fiction, written anonymously in the fourteenth century. It’s not as if director, David Lowery set out to do a biopic about Winston Churchill. Gawain could be played by any actor and Patel is terrific in the role.

The third strand is the most baffling: people complaining that, over the film’s two hour duration, ‘absolutely nothing happens’ – even though most of them casually add that they stopped watching after twenty minutes or so! The truth is that a lot happens in this film, even if the story unfolds at a leisurely pace, and what happens is fascinating stuff, open to a viewer’s own interpretation.

Our hero is the nephew of The King (Sean Harris), and we’re first introduced to Gawain as a slovenly layabout, happily carrying on with commoner Essel (Alicia Vikander), but, despite her entreaties, showing no inclination to marry her. One Christmas Eve, Gawain is summoned to a feast at the castle where he is invited to sit at his Uncle’s side. At this point, there’s an unexpected visitor, the titular Green Knight (Ralph Ineson). He rides in and issues a playful challenge. If any man will face him in combat, he will offer them the chance to strike him with a sword. But in one year’s time, that man must present himself to the Green Knight and receive the same treatment in return. Gawain recklessly steps up to the plate and, no doubt fuelled by a little too much alcohol, lops off the knight’s head, thinking perhaps that it will end there – whereupon the ancient warrior picks up his severed bonce and gleefully rides away.

One year later, as Christmas looms, Gawain is understandably nervous. After some procrastination, and girdled by a protective belt fashioned by his witchlike mother (Sarita Chowdhury), he sets off for the Green Chapel to meet with his adversary.

A classic quest dutifully unfolds. On his travels, Gawain meets with a duplicitous young thief (Barry Keoghan), a talking fox, and a mysterious lord (Joel Edgerton). He also has a close encounter with the lord’s wife – also played by Vikander – who tests Gawain’s mettle as a ‘gallant knight’…

The Green Knight is a splendid film. I love the gorgeous cinematography, its grubby depiction of a medieval world. I enjoy the various themes that criss-cross throughout the story. Here is a profound meditation on death, on coming of age, on the need for a brash young man to find his maturity. It explores the constant struggle between pagan beliefs and the rising power of Christianity (note how the Green Knight is depicted as the Green Man of mythology). I love the strange hallucinogenic interlude where Gawain encounters a race of giants and I marvel at the fact that, hours after the credits have rolled, we’re still discussing the meaning of some of the film’s weirder moments.

Of course this won’t be for everyone. And of course, some will see it as pretentious. But in many ways, The Green Knight is one of the most original films I’ve ever seen. It should have had its proper chance to dazzle us on the big screen.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

A Ghost Story

14/08/17

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few months, you’ll already have heard about this film. It’s the one where Oscar-winning actor Casey Affleck spends most of his time hidden under a bed-sheet – the one where Rooney Mara has to eat an entire chocolate pie in one take, even though she’s never actually eaten pie before… Seldom has so much information been spread in advance of a film’s release. And then there’s that killer trailer, which really raised my expectations for this.

So, is the actual film any good? Well, the answer to that question isn’t as straightforward as you might hope.

This is the story of handsome young couple, C (Casey Affleck), and M (Rooney Mara), living together in a modest clapboard house, somewhere deep in the heart of Texas. When C is killed in a car crash  – don’t worry, this really isn’t a spoiler – he somehow finds himself rising up from his death bed, cloaked in his funeral shroud. He returns to his house, where he watches in silence as M goes through a lengthy grieving process before finally moving on with her life and leaving for pastures new. C is doomed to remain tied to the house, waiting for something – we’re not sure exactly what – to happen and, as we eventually witness, he is destined to be there for eternity, even able to somehow loop back around to revisit the past.

The film unfolds at such a funereal pace, it makes a Terence Malick film seem like Fast and Furious by comparison. Indeed, at times it’s less like a motion picture and more like watching a series of still images in an art gallery. Obviously, this is no accident on the part of writer/director David Lowery, who clearly wants you to meditate deeply on the subjects of bereavement, mourning and the passing of time, but I’d be lying if I claimed that the film doesn’t sometimes test my patience to the extreme. Which is not to say that there aren’t some brilliant ideas in here. There are, but they take an inordinate amount of time to reveal themselves. The conviction remains that this could have been a brilliant short but, even at an economical 92 minutes, it drags its heels more than you’d like.

Weirdly, the images do tend to stay with you long after the closing credits, but this doesn’t feel like enough to recommend it to others. It feels to me that there’s the ghost of a very good movie in there somewhere, but it’s too tightly wrapped in its funeral shroud to ever claw its way out. Definitely a marmite film, this, and I’m already bracing myself to hear from those who will inevitably jump to its defence. But I was left wanting more. And that makes A Ghost Story a major disappointment.

2.5 stars

Philip Caveney