Sir Gawain poses by his horse

‘In the screenplay I described them almost as looking like extraterrestrials…’

On Wednesday we’ll be discussing David Lowery’s eerie new film, The Green Knight, and its source, the anonymous medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

In this interview for Vanity Fair, Lowery discusses the process of adaptating the poem for the screen.

‘The anonymous Gawain poet gave Lowery something of a gift in the form of just a few lines they used to yada-yada over much of Gawain’s journey. Lowery filled in those blanks with, yes, a lot of beautiful shots of Dev Patel trudging through the muddy Irish countryside, but also a keen eye for any stray word he might spin out into another adventure. “I hadn’t read the whole thing since college, so I started reading it and writing the script at the same time,” he says. “I didn’t have the balance of the poem in my mind, and so I’d reached the lines you mentioned that have one reference to Holy Head or mention of giants or ogres, depending on the translation you read—and I think there’s serpents and great battles.”

‘Lowery transformed those thinned-out mentions into supernatural encounters with the Welsh town of Holywell’s legendary St. Winifred (Erin Kellyman), eerily CGI-rendered giants, and a scavenger played with creeping menace by Barry Keoghan on the desolate remains of a bloody battle. “Winfred’s the most prime example,” Lowery says. “The text has an inference to a specific place that has a great deal of history and a great deal of lore to it. It was sort of irresistible.”

‘The corpse-choked battlefield Gawain travels across was inspired, Lowery says, by the Battle of Badon, in which King Arthur was said to have killed 960 men all on his own. Lowery’s take on that battle calls into question Arthur’s “peaceful” reign. In the original poem, depending on the translation you read, Arthur is described as “lively” and “boyish.” Lowery cast frequent film villain Sean Harris (Mission: Impossible) as Arthur and The Witch and Game of Thrones alum Kate Dickie as Queen Guinevere, styling them as fading, sickly monarchs in order to imply some rot in the heart of Camelot. “In the screenplay I described them almost as looking like extraterrestrials,” he says. “It was designed to make people feel uneasy about them. At the same time Sean’s performance is so warm. So there’s a complexity…and it’s one of the richer aspects of the film.”

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