Cult Movie Essentials

Cult Movie Essentials: Sword of the Valiant – The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1984)

Directed by Stephen Weeks, Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is loosely based on the 14th century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It opens with a feast in a great hall during winter. The king (Trevor Howard) is ashamed of how comfortable they have all grown to live, and questions the bravery of all knights present.

Suddenly, a knight on horseback (Sean Connery) storms through the door and the crowd falls silent as the knight, all in green and carrying a large axe, walks up to the throne. He asks if any man has enough courage to challenge him to a game. The king shames the knights around the hall for not volunteering, and in an act of showmanship announces he himself shall take the challenge given by the green knight.

Eventually Gawain (Miles O’Keeffe) speaks up and accepts the challenge in lieu of the king. The knight tells Gawain that he has one chance to behead him, but then the knight gets to return the favour. The king grants Gawain knighthood so that he can fulfil the requirements of the challenge. Gawain beheads the knight but then the knight’s torso walks up and grabs the head and puts it back on his body. The crowd is stunned and the knight tells Gawain to kneel so he can make his blow. The knight then pauses and considers that Gawain is merely a boy who has not yet even grown a beard. The knight says he will return in one year, enough for the boy to grow a beard, to claim his side of the bargain. Gawain questions the knight “must I spend the year awaiting death at your hand?”. The green knight gives Gawain a chance to solve a riddle to save his life, which consists of four lines:

Where life is emptiness, gladness.
Where life is darkness, fire.
Where life is golden, sorrow.
Where life is lost, wisdom.

Gawain is then given King Arthur’s blessing and ceremonial armour to accomplish a seemingly chivalrous task. He heads out with a loyal servant in search of the answer to the Green Knight’s riddle…

 

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