“You see, a sword is three feet of tempered steel with death dancing on every inch and hanging like a dark star on the very point. You don’t wield it like a broomstick” ~ Oswald
This week, we have the retelling of the epic Arthurian romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in this 1984 fantasy reboot. It appears that a pattern is emerging; I’m having more luck with older movies than I am newer, CGI-heavy, trying-to-be-blockbusters, flicks. The Sword of the Valiant might be sorely lacking in decent special effects, and peppered with cheesy costumes and dialogue, but once again, I found myself enjoying the ride, much like I did with The Magic Sword several weeks ago. The Sword of the Valiant is fun, and has a few of my favourite actors in it, Sean Connery, and John Rhys-Davies, to lessen the pain of the 80s feel of the film.
Sir Gawain played by Miles O’Keefe (Tarzan, Ator), looking a little like an underfed version of He-Man, accepts the challenge of the mysterious Green Knight, played by glittery green Sean Connery (Untouchables, Goldfinger). Who can cut off the Green Knight’s head with one strike? If they fail, the Green Knight gets to return the blow. Gawain successfully beheads the strange knight, only to find (much to his dismay) the Green Knight placing his severed head back onto his body and telling him that he will meet him within one year to return the strike unless he can solve the following riddle:
Where life is emptiness, gladness.
Where life is darkness, fire.
Where life is golden, sorrow.
Where life is lost, wisdom.
Off goes Sir Gawain with a few trusted men to solve the riddle and save his neck. Dressed in useless ceremonial armour, Sir Gawain meets his first foe, a Black Knight, played by Douglas Wilmer (Richard III, Octopussy) who is sworn to protect a mythical kingdom called Lyonesse. The two duke it out and Gawain emerges the victor having grievously wounded the Black Knight. He asks Gawain to take him back to Lyonesse so he can die there. Unfortunately, when they arrive, the Black Knight betrays Gawain, accusing him of murder, and sets the city guards on him. He escapes the castle with the help of a beautiful woman, named Linet, played by French actress, Cyrielle Clair (Sword Of Gideon, Triple Agent). Of course, because Gawain took the easy way out via Linet’s magic ring, he has broken the Green Knight’s rules. He manages to get whisked back to the castle to attempt to solve the riddle again. Linet is kidnapped by the ruthless Baron, Oswald, played by Ronald Lacey (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Red Sonja) so like the good chivalrous knight that he is, Gawain must save his lady love, because of course, after meeting her once, for five minutes , he is madly in love and can’t live without her.
The rest of the story is filled with combat, jousting, cheesy medieval-movie dialogue, and some really terrible costume choices. Sadly, John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) isn’t on screen much, but steals the show every time he appears as the Baron Fortinbras. Connery, who honestly looks like Charles’ Dicken’s the Ghost of Christmas Present after being glitter bombed, does a decent job as the Green Knight. He manages to lend some gravitas to a role where he’s outfitted to look like it’s Halloween. Connery is working with a mediocre dialogue at best, but makes the most of it and saves the story from being just plain bad, to “funny-bad-in-a-good-way”. O’Keefe is silly, and takes the role of Gawain to the hilt (pun intended) with some bad quips, shoulder pads, and dreadful hair, but he’s amusing enough to keep your interest going to see the story though to the end. Linet, is a boring, simpering and forgettable character. She’s a prop throughout the entire film and I really found nothing interesting about her onscreen. The only good thing about Linet was that she caused Gawain to do outrageous things to save her, which made the movie more fun to watch.
This movie is very loosely based on the actual tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight . It veers dramatically from the Arthurian story, which is what it was criticised for when it was released in 1984. In spite of that, if you approach it more as a fantasy “inspired by” Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, you’ll enjoy it. It’s not at all a faithful rendition of the medieval romance, so keep your expectations low.
There are moments where it gets slow and I think they could’ve cut some of the more complicated tasks and story line out of the film. There were times I felt like Gawain was running around trying to complete a to-do list, rather than solve a mystical riddle. There were too many things to accomplish and strange intersecting stories that really didn’t need to be there, like the friar, who added some comedic relief but wasn’t integral to the plot. This is one of those things you watch on Netflix on a slow Sunday night, eating popcorn and having a laugh. Again, it’s very dated, and clunky, but retains a silliness that is difficult to dislike and is more genuine than all the CGI, high tech fantasy I’ve subjected myself to over the past month. Happy watching, and until next weekend, enjoy your medieval movie night!