Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Gawain and the Green Knight

At least two movies have been based on the anonymous 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (> Gawain).

1. UK movie (1973). Scancrest/United Artists. Pr Philip Breen. Dir Stephen Weeks. Spfx Les Millman. Graphics and titles Richard Williams. Screenplay Breen, Weeks. Script consultant Rosemary Sutcliff. Starring Nigel Green (Green Knight), Robert Hardy (Sir Bertilak), Murray Head (Gawain), David Leland (Humphrey), Ciaran Madden (Linet), Anthony Sharp (Arthur). 93 mins. Colour.

The court at Camelot is becoming corrupt; Arthur rails to little effect. One evening the Green Knight – a phantasmic figure – enters the great hall and challenges the knights to a beheading match. The only taker is the squire Gawain, who hacks off the Green Knight's head with a single blow; the Green Knight, replacing his head, reminds Gawain that in a year's time he must present his neck for the Green Knight's blow. That year is spent by Gawain (now Sir Gawain) in traditional Quest, during which he loves and loses and rediscovers the fair Enchantress Linet. At the end the Green Knight cannot strike Gawain but instead rots away into the earth, a symbol of the Thinning of the world and of the inevitable corruption that time brings.

Not for the purist, this is an adventure movie of some vigour and integrity, although badly marred by an over-repetitive music track. As an entertainment it largely succeeds; as a rendition of the poem – and despite Sutcliff's contribution – it compromises. [JG]

2. UK movie (1991 tvm). Thames. Pr John Michael Phillips. Exec pr Ian Martin. Dir Phillips. Screenplay David Rudkin. Starring Jason Durr (Gawain), Valerie Gogan (Linet/The Lady), Malcolm Storry (Green Knight/Red Lord). circa 90 mins. Colour.

Although this is evidently a shoestring production, it is of interest in that it is remarkably faithful to the original poem, with much of its dialogue and narration being in the form of direct translation. The Green Knight is portrayed as a Fertility figure, and his wife Linet, in the Godgame both are playing with Gawain, is a sort of skewed version of the Madonna (> Goddess) whom Gawain worships – and whose image is painted on the inside of his shield. Gawain finds himself a more full person, because he Learns Better – as with other men, his purity is not inviolable. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.