The Green Knight director David Lowery on the risk and reward of his medieval epic

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From the moment The Green Knight begins, it quickly becomes clear that director David Lowery’s take on the 14th-century poem has a very different cinematic feel to the one you’re likely to enjoy this year.

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Dev Patel’s Arthurian protagonist, Gawain, sits alone on a throne, dressed in Christ-like robes, while a scathing voiceover from a narrator introduces his story. A crown slowly descends from the top, neatly landing on Gawain’s head before combusting into a ball of fire, enveloping the profile of our hero in a blanket of yellow flames. Then it’s dark.

Those hoping for a medieval adventure picture book may be disappointed by The Green Knight’s more in-depth approach to storytelling, but Lowery has created a comprehensive, enticing picture that will hold a long-standing honor in Gawain’s memory. and will leave the pursuit of integrity troubles.

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before the movie extremely The long-awaited 24 September UK release on Amazon Prime Video, Nerdshala spoke with its director, and Ralph Inson, the Green Knight himself, about adapting 14th century poetry into an art house epic suitable for modern viewing.

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“I hope that when viewers watch The Green Knight, especially those who don’t know the poem, they get some unexpected resonance that they don’t know how to process,” Lowery tells us on Zoom. “This film is grand and epic, but on a visual level, it’s incredibly unique and modern, even though we’re dealing with antiquity.”

Dev Patel as Gawain in The Green Knight

This antiquity dates back to the late 1400s, when the only surviving manuscript of this story was first discovered. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has no known author, and its title was given centuries later by scholars and translators – one of whom was JRR Tolkien – who tried to decipher Middle English chivalric romances.

However, the basic beats of its plot are largely agreed upon. Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, accepts a challenge set by a fictional Green Knight, which allows any knight to be killed with his ax, if he, too, in the mysterious Green Chapel with a blow a year later. can return.

old and new

Lowy maintains the roots of this story in his theatrical adaptation, which chronicles Gawain’s tumultuous journey from the legendary knight of Camelot to the isolated adventurer. Dev Patel is mesmerizing as the layered protagonist, starring alongside Inson’s gorgeous Green Knight and a stellar supporting cast that includes Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, and Sean Harris.

I hope that when viewers watch The Green Knight, especially poetry they don’t know, they find some unexpected resonance that they don’t know how to process.

But the director, who counts A Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon and The Old Man and the Gun among his credits, was conscious to make sure his version of the well-pressed story was definitely his own.

“It’s such an enriching experience to read the different translations and see how the story changes, how the language develops and the choices different translators make,” he says. “Some of them take great liberties, some of them don’t. What it does for me as a filmmaker is it makes me feel like I’m participating in that tradition, because I too am in my own way. I am translating the text, trying to illuminate it from my point of view as Tolkien or anyone else. About the other translators whose versions I studied.”

David Lowery, Dev Patel and Joel Edgerton on set

“Even the way the language is used in the film was my version of translating the text,” Lowery tells us in The Green Knight, in reference to the mix of colloquial and literary dialogue. “I wouldn’t compare myself to a scholar who truly devoted himself to translation work, but I was hoping that by participating in that tradition I was doing both him and his great work justice. It was a beautiful thing.”

The man inside the Green Knight’s prosthetics, Ralph Inson — whose melodious voice has been put to extraordinary use here — reaffirms Lowy’s vision for the story, and his belief in his character in particular. “I think as an actor, my approach is always to pick the right filmmakers to work with. I was making David Lowery’s version of Knight — he’s gone through every version of this character, to explain it. By all means. You can never make a version that includes every reading, so I’m working with scripts I’ve got before me and conversations I’ve had with them.”

But with good reason, Inson is fans of Lowery’s decision to portray the Green Knight as a charming but oddly charming figure for Patel’s Gawain. “There’s definitely a kind of paternal warmth about them, a playfulness all the way through,” he says, not forgetting to highlight his favorite moment on set: “Riding a horse in the Great Hall of Camelot is one of the best experiences. Was one of. Ever was. I felt really bad.” He is also quite a badass looking.

Ralph Inson in The Green Knight

the great outdoors

Aside from the giveaway in the film’s title, it soon becomes clear that Nature is a character just as much as any king, queen or witch in The Green Knight. Working with cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo, Lowy’s shots captured an immense sense of scope, complete with Arthur’s Camelot and its misty surroundings, dense forests, rocky mountains and, of course, castles – all of which are located in Ireland. were filmed.

We had a lot of big sets, we had a lot of visual effects, but there is no bigger visual effect than Mother Nature.

“It’s not hard to achieve an overwhelming sense of scale when you’re out in a beautiful valley in the Wicklow Mountains with a wide-angle lens,” he tells us. “In all my films, I always try to find places that have a sense of scope. I want to be down there, watching these tremendous things around me at the ground level, close to the actors and I am obeying him.”

“We had a lot of big sets, we had a lot of visual effects, but there’s no greater visual effects than Mother Nature, and it’s important for me to always go out into the world, as opposed to shooting things on a blue screen. I really want to go to those places, I want to see the effect of the weather on the faces of the actors. It’s part of the joy and the thrill of making movies, being out in these worlds and feeling them in as tactful a way as possible. Mine It also believes that cleverness can overpower the audience.”

Crane camera being used on set

Lowy – who cites the books of Willow, Andrei Rublev and Prospero among his inspirations – also wants to point out that his vision of 6th-century England was often accompanied by the surprisingly beautiful weather of Ireland. “We had some incredibly sunny days,” he says, “we had to photograph a rainbow on occasion. It was a remarkably hot spring in Ireland, so the film was cooler than it actually was. Feels colder.”

risky reception

Like most films released last year, the global pandemic played its part in delaying The Green Knight’s journey to screens (it hit US theaters in July, though its UK arrival was rescheduled to September 24).

But Lowery’s film also comes as a retribution for the big-budget, blockbuster fare of recent months. The Green Knight is as far from The Suicide Squad as any filmmaker would dare, and its directors are well aware of the risks involved in crafting such an unconventional picture.

Given the particular title, some would go on into the thinking that this is going to be a Marvel movie. And it is far from that.

“I’m sure the film will feel very strange and strange and unusual for someone who doesn’t know this story,” Lowery tells us, “but it’s not a special art film experience, but a very unique version of it.” A medieval epic. “

“There is no world in which this was not a risky move,” he says. “It was a challenge at every level, in production, but also in release. To get the pandemic out of it, it will still be a tough film to release in the middle of summer, but A24 is excited about that particular challenge. Gaya and thought it was not only a fun adventure, but something that would hopefully resonate within our culture in a meaningful way.”

David Lowery, Ralph Inson and Dev Patel on set

Inson is also mindful of the film’s unique approach to storytelling. “I think the audience will realize [the weirdness]. Given the particular title, some would go on into the thinking that this is going to be a Marvel movie. And it is far from that. But it is a wonderful coming of age story. It is a journey of self-discovery. It’s about a young man who has to come to terms with his own mortality, and learn to resist temptation and be brave.”

A Marvel movie it certainly isn’t, but The Green Knight is nonetheless a fascinating and at times hypnotic deep dive into the brutal human cost of myths and legends, an exposé on the emptiness of heroism, and a cast and crew by A clear appreciation for the power of visual imagery with anchor.

“Every time I try to stop and think of this movie in a literary sense, it makes less sense, because my gut reaction is just to be mesmerized,” Inson concluded.

There’s no handbook for making a good movie these days, but being mesmerized is a very welcome compliment.

The Green Knight will arrive on Amazon Prime Video UK on 24 September.

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