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Wonderful Christmas animation
The deserved winner of a BAFTA award, this 2002 animated short is shamefully unavailable on DVD or video, and has been screened only twice on British television. Those who watched and recorded it at the time can tell you how remarkable a piece of work this is.
'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' has been one of the the greatest iconic English Christmas fables since its appearance as a narrative poem more than six hundred years ago. This animated adaptation taps beautifully into that medieval heritage by framing its images in the style of stained glass illuminations. The effect transports you into a world of medieval myth and fable, as if you were observing narrative tableau on the ancient windows of a Gothic cathedral. Rarely in the world of animated film have reds, greens and blues looked so lush, bright and expressionistic.
This classic fable of the winter solstice tells the tale of Gawain's epic journey across a bleak winter landscape, his trial of virtue, and his duel with his mysterious supernatural adversary amidst the frosts and snows of the waning year. All of this is brilliantly realised in just twenty five minutes of screen time. A text-book example of how to put together an adaptation, and how to tell an epic story through coloured images and sound.
The film was made in Ireland, with funding from the Welsh television channel S4C, and with a British voice cast (including a young James D'Arcy as Gawain, and Anton Lesser as the Green Knight). A great example of the possibilities of animated co-production, and made with very evident love and commitment by all concerned.
'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' deserves to be hailed as an animated classic. However, the lack of regular screenings and its ongoing lack of availability on DVD mean that hardly anyone has had the opportunity to view it. If you are lucky enough to get hold of a copy, pass it around and show it to all your friends. It should be made compulsory viewing during the festive season (especially to children!).
Spectacular to look at, evocative, moving, dream-like, eerily unsettling (in the best possible way), and beautiful from start to finish. Absolutely recommended.
Delightful! It never pretends to be a masterpiece, but it's a mini-gem of late seventies British comedy. Given that the producers wanted to sell it abroad, it stars an American (the late character actor Richard Jordan), but at least he isn't the usual dull Hollywood hunk type. Surrounding him is the cream of British character acting talent, led by a wonderfully waspish and superior David Niven.
Niven's Ivan the Terrible naturally gets the best one liners and all the best reaction shots. He also manages to be surprisingly menacing and intimidatingly dangerous. The moment in the snooker club when he drops the charming facade and threatens Richard Jordan will come as a shock to those viewers who think of Niven as being only a light drawing room comedy star. He is filled with genuine power and ruthlessness as we see all at once how Ivan earned his nickname. All the more surprising given how ill Niven was at the time. Shortly after filming this production he lost his powers of speech to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (known as Lou Gehrig's disease). This is the last picture Niven made where you can hear his own voice, being dubbed thereafter by the comic impressionist Sid Caesar.
Alongside him you can spot numerous familiar faces from seventies cinema and television. Elke Sommer (flashing her breasts in true seventies era politically incorrect bimbo mode), Oliver Tobias, Michael Angelis, Brian Croucher, Davy Kaye etc, etc. Davy Kaye gets one of the biggest laughs as he holds up a security guard caught making a phone call. "Who you ringing?!....Bloody Dial-A-Disc! You gormless git!"
Great shots of London street locations; making the film a period patina time capsule of red phone boxes with chunky round-dial manual handsets, black cabs driven by "Cor blimey, gov!" cockneys, and ladies and gents modelling all manner of deeply dodgy late seventies retro leisure wear and hair styles.
Unlike the classic Ealing comedies of an earlier era, the 'hero' is allowed to get away with his crime and escape to a life in the sun. How times had changed! The morality code by which crooks in films always had to be seen to be punished had long gone by the seventies, with anti-heroes like Pinky Green earning status through their cheeky anti-authoritarianism and determination to 'cock a snook' at a stuffy capitalist establishment of be-suited fat cat businessmen. We are encouraged to cheer as Pinky makes off, unpunished and free as a bird with his ill gotten gains. Compare that to the ending of The Lavender Hill Mob!
Highly entertaining, quaintly dated in its fashions and attitudes, and the stuff of late night cult viewing. Perfect to watch at midnight after the pubs have shut; if you're of a certain age, are feeling a touch nostalgic, and have always wanted to see David Niven in a branch of McDonalds, silently intimidating an American via the use of a retractable telescope!