Loosely based on the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, this was the second time that director Stephen Weeks filmed the tale, as he made Gawain and the Green Knight in 1973. Shot in Wales, Ireland and France with period costumes taken from Europe’s finest theaters such as the Royal National Theatre, the Bristol Old Vic, Berman’s and Nathan’s, Aristide Boyer and the Spanish Cornejo.
And it’s absolutely deranged.
King Arthur’s (Trevor Howard) Camelot is nowhere near the magical place legend has led us to believe. As the times of war and quests have ended, the knights have lost their spirit of adventure and bravery, so when the Green Knight (Sean Connery!) bursts in to challenge them, no one rises to the challenge.
Seriously, not since Zardoz has Connery worn such finery. He looks like a human tree, his face spray tanned to the darkest of skin tones, glitter in his beard, antlers and berries forming his crown and a hole in the middle of his chest so we get a good gander at his very manly chest hair.
The Green Knight has a wager: he will allow any knight to chop his head off. They only get one blow and if they fail, he gets to do the same in return. While King Arthur grows angry that none of his knights will take on this challenge, who can blame them? A strange gigantic green forest creature has broken into Camelot, no one has stopped him and he’s offering a deal too good to be true? You can understand that this seems like a trap.
Gawain (Miles O’Keefe, Ator himself!) is the lone person to volunteer and he’s immediately knighted before he chops off the Green Knight’s head. The end. Roll credits.
Except that the head stays alive. And keeps talking. And puts itself back on its body. And reveals that in one year, he will return to chop off Gawain’s head, unless he can solve this riddle:
Where life is emptiness, gladness.
Where life is darkness, fire.
Where life is golden, sorrow.
Where life is lost, wisdom.
At this point, the movie becomes an episodic series of adventures that wildly vary in tone from adventure to absurd comedy, often within the same scene. From a duel with a Black Knight that later accuses him of murder to lunching with Morgan Le Fay and falling for Princess Linet (Cyrielle Clair) and interacting with characters played by Peter Cushing, John Rhys-Davies and Ronald Lacey, who played Oswald in both of Weeks’ takes on this story.
What’s striking is just how bad of a knight Gawain is. He screws up nearly everything he tries, trusts the wrong people and nearly gets the people he cares about killed. And by the end of movie, he hasn’t solved the riddle and basically wins the day thanks to dumb luck and Linet.
Often, these stories have some kind of moral, but the only one I can come up with is always hire Sean Connery, because he makes this movie so much better with his two scenes. O’Keefe was the second choice for the role, as the director wanted Mark Hamill, so I can barely contain myself thinking of just how much hammy overacting this film is missing out on.
Connery was making Never Say Never Again at the same time as this, so he could barely be bothered to be in the movie. Which is awesome and that Bond remake could very definitely also be a Cannon movie, as it fits so many of the hallmarks of the studio.
What I’m wondering is, “Why did Ridley Scott make The Green Knight when Cannon already did it?” I kind of love how over the top and ridiculous this movie is. It’s great when Connery is on screen and may falter after, but it definitely makes some choices with its costumes and production values.
Austin Trunick’s The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984 was an invauable resource for this article.
You can listen to The Cannon Canon episode about this sword and sorcery movie here.