Arthurian legends get a PG makeover in The Kid Who Would be King. It’s a bit like King Arthur meets The Lost Boys with a splash of Stand by Me thrown in. The result is a rollicking kids-own adventure, with enough to keep adults at least engaged.
The idea of a group of kids banding together to defeat evil isn’t new. But writer-director Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) knows all the right buttons to push (I mean, he wrote the screenplay for Ant-Man). His somewhat formulaic script might be a bit hackneyed, but for his core audience (say 8 to 13 year olds) that won’t matter a bit. Indeed, at the preview screening, kids were literally cheering the characters along, so Cornish is obviously doing something right.
The “kid” of the title is Alex (Louis Ashborne Serkis – yes, Andy Serkis’s son). He lives with his single Mum (Denise Gough), but treasures a book about King Arthur which is the last reminder of his absent dad. Bullied at school – notably by older kids Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) – his only real friend is the equally picked-on Bedders (Dean Chaumoo). But when Lance and Kaye chase him one evening, Alex ducks into a building site. There he finds what seems to be the fabled sword Excalibur, wedged in a concrete block. To his surprise, Alex is able to pull the sword out. But doing so sparks Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) to life.
Long imprisoned in the underworld, Morgana plans to take the sword and regain her mystical power via an upcoming solar eclipse. Alex however finds an unlikely ally in the wizard Merlin (Angus Imrie). Having gotten wind of Morgana’s plans, Merlin has returned to help and is posing as a student at Alex’s school. The sword brings immediate danger to Alex and Bedders. And soon everything will be lost unless the friends embark on an epic quest.
Cornish somehow holds this rickety contraption of a film together, largely through the enthusiastic performances of his cast. It works best when the kids are doing the questing thing. A sub-plot involving Alex’s fraught relationships with his parents falls rather flat. Some of the early scenes setting up the drama tend to drag; and it suffers from “multiple ending syndrome”, where just when you think it’s over, some new challenge arises. Cornish also seems to wedge in several Brexit analogies (perhaps for the benefit of the adults) but these get a bit muddled.
But for its key demographic, none of that will matter. What matters is kids saving the day, and on that front The Kid Who Would be King kicks goals.
As noted, the performances are certainly enthusiastic, even if they’re a bit stilted. Tom Taylor (The Dark Tower) is the most experienced of the kids, but is saddled with a largely one-dimensional character in Lance. Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) is suitably nasty as Morgana though she too gets limited opportunities. But Angus Imrie is fantastic as the young Merlin and lends an air of goofy charm to the whole film. Incidentally, British acting doyen Patrick Stewart plays the old Merlin.
The Kid Who Would be King isn’t going to tax your brain or reveal any deep insights. It delivers straight-up adventure aimed squarely at kids, and on that front, it succeeds. As such, it’s perfect for a cool break at the cinema during the long summer school holidays.
Director: Joe Cornish
Cast: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Tom Taylor, Angus Imrie, Rebecca Ferguson
Release Date: 17 January 2019
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – movie review
- The Greatest Showman – movie review
- The Dark Tower – movie review
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television