This amusing family flick presents a intriguing take on the legend of King Arthur.
Set in modern-day London, Joe Cornish’s reimagining of the legendary King Arthur doesn’t quite have the same impact as his directorial debut, Attack the Block. However, Cornish’s references to British culture and the nation’s current political climate helps revamp the Arthurian legend for a generation caught up in Brexit. This setting is bold and refreshing which helps set this film apart from other interpretations of the same legend. With an engaging cast of characters and some clever tweaks to kid-hero trope, this film caters well to its intended audience. Although the film suffers from some predictable story beats, it concludes with a poignant message that will resonate with viewers regardless of their age.
The main hero, Alexander ‘Alex’ Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) and his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) are at the bottom of the school pecking order which makes them prime targets for bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). Whilst running away from the bullies, Alex comes across a sword stuck in the remains of a collapsed building. This sword happens to be the legendary Excalibur which draws the attention of a teenaged Merlin (Angus Imrie). Simultaneously, this awakens the evil sorcerous Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) who wants the Excalibur to cement her claim as the rightful ruler of Britain. By teaming up with his friends and the bullies, Alex must save Britain from the clutches of Morgana.
All of the actors give strong performances. The main standout is Imrie whose animated facial expressions and eccentric body language help distinguish Merlin as a goofy, fish-out-of-water guide for the heroes. Ferguson is surprisingly menacing in her role as Morgana with the costume and special affects complimenting her performance. The younger actors are quite delightful in their roles. A little stiff at times, but all show the potential to be strong and capable actors in the future.
The camerawork shows some stunning establishing shots of Cornwall’s countryside to help strengthen the epic scale of the heroes’ quest. The tracking shots effectively showcase the breadth of Morgana’s powers, solidifying her as a formidable opponent to the young heroes. Unfortunately, the attempts at humour are mild at best as most of the jokes and references to modern technology fall flat. There are times where the film can be a little too predictable but luckily, these elements are not too distracting. As mentioned earlier, the film’s setting in the midst of Brexit debates is noticeable but it is smoothly interwoven into the story. The film breezes through this fairly quickly however, never really choosing a particular stance. It appears this was a conscious decision to not make the film politically biased as Cornish seems to be more interested in showing the necessity of uniting people in times of conflict. This is present in the alliance between the main characters who are eventually able to resolve their differences and work together as a fully-realised team. Cornish hammers the theme of unity home in the third act. The final showdown is cleverly staged at a place where many children spend their time developing their skills alongside their first and potentially long-term relationships. Not only does this mix the fantastical and medieval elements seamlessly into a modern city, but it presents it in an environment that young audiences can resonate with.
Overall, The Kid Who Would Be King takes a fascinating spin on a classic British legend and updates it for a modern audience. Although not executed as strongly as his first feature, Cornish continues to bring unique elements to familiar storylines, refreshing them for moviegoers who have grown tired of the same old routine.
The Kid Who Would Be King, directed by Joe Cornish, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox, certificate PG.