Friday, 27 June 2014

Heads You Lose

‘Gawain and the Green Knight’ is a story that dates from the late 14th century. In it, a mysterious green hued axe wielding stranger enters King Arthur’s court and requests that someone behead him. The only person to take up the challenge is the youngest of the Knights, Sir Gawain, who borrows the axe and slices the man’s head clean off. Somewhat disconcertingly, the stranger picks up his severed noggin, places it back on his shoulders and says that he will see Sir Gawain at the Green Chapel in a year and a day at which point the stranger will have his turn, i.e. a go at hacking off Gawain’s head.

It’s a great opening. The story soon becomes a mystical romance with much mystical nonsense about foxes and girdles and kisses and, in the end, the Green Knight decides only to shame him, not to decapitate. I haven’t read it, of course, but I have hopefully conveyed the gist of it and the importance of learning. Director Stephen Weeks presumably has read the story, as he has made not one, but two film adaptations of it, which is particularly impressive bearing in mind that he only directed four feature films in total.

The first version, simply titled ‘Gawain and The Green Knight’ takes a lot of liberties with the text, inserting more exciting and action packed incidents from other medieval stories. It’s okay, and occasionally has a pleasantly strange European art film feel to it but, fatally, is a bit dull. Even worse,  ‘Monty Python and The Holy Grail’, which is clearly an extended parody of this film and others like it,  has rendered the original impossible to take seriously.

It gains points, however, for featuring two of Britain's greatest character actors, the capricious Geoffrey Bayldon and the waspish Murray Melvin. It then loses a point for having Robert Hardy in it, before regaining it simply because Hardy has such a ridiculous fucking haircut, which sounds, overall, like a win.

No comments:

Post a Comment