Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a 1984 dramatic fantasy film directed by Stephen Weeks and starring Miles O’Keeffe, Trevor Howard, Lila Kedrova, Cyrielle Clair, Leigh Lawson, Peter Cushing, and Sean Connery.
The film is loosely based on the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written in the late 14th century, but the narrative differs substantially. It was the second time Weeks had adapted the traditional tale into a film. His first effort was Gawain and the Green Knight (1973).
The film begins with a feast in a great hall during winter. The king is ashamed of how comfortable they have all grown to live, and questions the bravery of all knights present. A knight on horseback storms through the door and the crowd falls silent as the knight, all in green and carrying a large axe, walks 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. Finally, Gawain, a young squire, accepts the challenge in lieu of the king. The knight informs Gawain that he has one chance to behead him, but then the knight can attempt to do the same to Gawain. The king grants Gawain knighthood so that Gawain can fulfil the requirements of the challenge. Gawain beheads the knight—but the knight’s body walks to the head and places it back in its place. The crowd is stunned. 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 asks 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. When asked which way they should be heading, his servant suggests due west, as that is the direction the wind is blowing.
Sir Gawain then meets another knight, in black armour, claiming to defend a lost and hidden city. After a short duel (in which Sir Gawain’s thin armour is revealed by the servant to him) the knight in black armour concedes to the challenger and shows the whereabouts of a secret city. However, upon arriving there, the knight in black armour, close to death, lies about his wounds and calls the victorious Sir Gawain a murderer, setting the city and her guards upon him. He manages to escape the guards, thanks to the aid of a beautiful lady in the castle, who gives him a ring with which to escape.
Upon escaping he is told by the Green Knight that the game he has accepted as a challenge has rules, rules of which have been broken.
Later, Gawain returns to the secret city, only to find it deserted, with the denizens old and covered in cobwebs, frozen in time. However, he is able to revive and bring back the youth of the lady that helped him escape by giving her the magic ring he used to escape the city (that previously broke the rules). Unfortunately, in his hours of peace and love, the lady is kidnapped by a lustful prince.
Gawain is convinced that saving her is his only option and rediscovers his friend and servant along with a band of men willing to assist. Whilst the rescue mission is underway, a rival Baron of the captors arrives and threatens war if certain demands are not met. The rival Baron has accepted the beautiful lady as a tribute to avert war. The rescue mission fails, with Sir Gawain under the false impression that the beautiful lady has been killed in a fire thanks to the acts of the lustful prince.
Later Gawain asks his comrades to disband, including the men that followed him to raid the castle in an attempt to save the lady. He then discovers to his joy that the lady has in fact been saved by the rival Baron who accepted her as a tribute and even gave her her freedom at no cost. Eternally grateful, Sir Gawain once more gathers his men and his servant and encounters the forces of the prince who kidnapped the lady. Despite being outnumbered and lacking archers, Sir Gawain and his men triumph over the forces of the lustful prince. Whilst in single combat, Sir Gawain has the upper hand when the prince calls for assistance from an archer nearby. The archer is about to fire into Gawain’s back when the seneschal of the Prince’s father orders the archer to stop, preferring to see his son die in honourable combat than let him cheat. The Seneschal then orders his men to withdraw, leaving Gawain to take the field.
Following his finale with the lustful prince, Gawain is approached by the Green Knight. Gawain has failed to solve the final line of the riddle within the time limit, and must, therefore, allow the Green Knight one swing at his neck with an axe.
Gawain rides out to meet the Knight. He has around his neck a piece of magical cloth from the lady, showing her favour. The Green knight takes aim with his axe at Gawain’s neck and strikes a blow. To his surprise the Green Knight’s strike only cuts the magical cloth given to him by the lady, leaving Gawain otherwise unharmed. Gawain then tells the Green Knight that the game is over since he has struck his single blow. The Green Knight and Sir Gawain then do battle, with Sir Gawain triumphing. As the Green Knight suffers a mortal wound, he asks Sir Gawain to stop the battle, realizing that he has already lost.
Sir Gawain returns to the beautiful lady. Near the sea, he talks with her and she tells him: “I too live a borrowed year. It began with your act of valour before the Green Knight and now is at an end.” As he touches her on the cheek, she flies away like a dove, returning to Lyonesse.
- Miles O’Keeffe as Sir Gawain.
- Cyrielle Clair as Linet.
- Leigh Lawson as Humphrey.
- Sean Connery as The Green Knight.
- Trevor Howard as King Arthur.
- Peter Cushing as Seneschal – Gaspar.
- Ronald Lacey as Oswald.
- Lila Kedrova as Lady of Lyonesse.
- John Rhys-Davies as Baron Fortinbras.
- Wilfrid Brambell as Porter.
- Bruce Lidington as Sir Bertilak.
- Douglas Wilmer as The Black Knight.
- Brian Coburn as Friar Vosper.
- David Rappaport as Sage.
- Emma Sutton as Morgan La Fay.
The film was copyrighted in 1983 and released the following year. Filming took place in Wales and Ireland, as well as the Château de Pierrefonds and the Palais des Papes in France. The period wardrobe was culled from the collections of stock rooms of the Royal National Theatre and the Bristol Old Vic as well as Berman’s and Nathan’s, the French Aristide Boyer and the Spanish Cornejo.
Director Stephen Weeks hoped to cast Mark Hamill as Gawain, but producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus insisted on Miles O’Keeffe for the role. The film also stars Emma Sutton who would later appear in another film about the Arthurian legends, Merlin of the Crystal Cave.
Steptoe and Son actor Wilfrid Brambell made a guest appearance. This was his last ever performance.
The current USA DVD release has received negative reviews as it is mastered in a 4:3 pan and scan picture. However, the Polish release has the film in the original 2.35:1 Cinemascope ratio which has proved more popular. This film is currently unreleased in the United Kingdom.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Stephen Weeks.
- Philip M. Breen … executive producer.
- Yoram Globus … producer.
- Menahem Golan … producer.
- Michael J. Kagan … executive producer (as Michael Kagan).
- Basil Keys … associate producer.
- Sture Rydman … associate producer.
- Stephen Weeks … (screenplay).
- Howard C. Pen … (screenplay).
- Philip M. Breen … (screenplay).
- Rosemary Sutcliff … (additional dialogue).
- Therese Burdon … (additional dialogue).
- Music: Ron Geesin.
- Cinematography: Peter Hurst and Freddie Young.
- Editor(s): Richard Marden and Berry Peters.
- Golan-Globus Productions.
- Stephen Weeks Company (produced in association with).
- The Cannon Group (1984) (World-wide) (theatrical).
- Cannon Film Distributors Ltd. (1984) (UK) (theatrical).
- Cannon Film Distributors (1984) (USA) (theatrical).
- Guild Home Video (1985) (UK) (VHS).
- MGM/UA Home Entertainment (1985) (USA) (VHS) (pan and scan).
- Federico de la Cruz Martín (1986) (Spain) (theatrical).
- Video Collection International (1987) (UK) (VHS).
- MGM Home Entertainment (2004) (USA) (DVD).
- Doperfilme (1987) (Portugal) (theatrical).
- Koch Media (2012) (Germany) (DVD).
- RCA/Columbia Pictures Video (Japan) (VHS).
- Scorpion Releasing (2020) (USA) (Blu-ray).
- Umbrella Entertainment (2010) (Australia) (DVD).
- Video Medien Pool (VMP) (1985) (West Germany) (VHS).
- Release Date: 09 June 1984 (Philippines), 17 August 1984 (US), and 09 November 1984 (UK).
- Running Time: 102 minutes.
- Rating: PG.
- Country: UK.
- Language: English.