Nearly all schoolchildren at some point run around the playground pretending to be their favourite heroes (and sometimes, their favourite villains). Whether it be Captain America, Luke Skywalker or Frodo Baggins, they delight in acting out the fantasies they read & watch with the dedication that transform them into mythos. Writer/Director Joe Cornish taps directly into this stream of vivid childlike-imagination for his highly enjoyable new film, The Kid Who Would be King.
Louis Ashbourne-Serkis (son of Andy Serkis) stars as Alex Elliot, a seemingly unremarkable 12 year-old English Schoolboy. Being brought up by a single-mum and an outcast at school, he is bullied by his peers and idolises the father he barely knew. Alex’s world changes however, when after being chased into a building site by the local school bullies (Lance and Kaye, played by Tom Taylor and Rhianna Dorris respectively) he stumbles upon a sword lodged in a large stone.
Alex pulls the sword from the rock and after researching further with his best-mate Bedders (Played by Dean Chaumoo) finds the sword to be Excalibur, the mythical sword in the stone, immortalised in the classic tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable. So starts Alex’s quest to save the world from King Arthur’s evil half-sister Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), recruiting Bedders and bullies Lance & Kaye as his Knights and guided by the Wizard Merlin (here played in young form by Angus Imrie and old form by Patrick Stewart).
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Eight year’s after Cornish’s directorial debut Attack the Block, in which he brought vicious aliens to a South-London block of flats, Cornish again melds the mundane with the fantastical, creating an entertaining and action-packed adventure with a strong moral and political message beneath it’s surface. Cornish handles the action scenes with aplomb, deftly mixing CGI with real-world physical effects and camera acrobatics. The film’s concluding battle is particualy impressive. These scenes are strongly supported by Electric Wave Bureau’s excellent score, which mixes classical folk string elements with eighties synths.
The cast of mostly under-18s all deliver well balanced performances. Louis Ashbourne Serkis gives Alex a melancholy quality which beautifully juxtaposes against the fantasy elements of the film, reacting to demon knights with almost a dead-pan ‘Buster Keaton’ quality. Stand-out among the cast is Angus Imrie as the young Merlin (Son of actress Celia Imrie). Dressed in what can only be described as modern Doctor Who chic, his wide & bright eyes, long neck & limbs and lightening fast dialogue hijack every scene he is in.
Like in Attack the Block the filmmaking influences on Joe Cornish are evidently apparent in The Kid Who Would be King; the spectres of Spielberg, Carpenter and Donner loom-large. Where Cornish succeeds though is in taking elements from these masters and then making a film which is truly his own and uniquely British. The message of Cornish’s film is clear and timely – we should not let divisions tear us apart, we should learn from history but not let it dictate our fate moving forwards and finally, that the children of today will make the world of tomorrow.
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For all the enjoyment though, The Kid Who Would be King does stumble in places. Cornish takes time to find the rhythm of his movie and it is not until the band of warriors set out onto their quest at the end of the first act that the film really finds it’s pacing. Rebecca Ferguson as the villain Morgana is given insufficient screen-time and subsequently her character appears underdeveloped, undermining some of the emotional beats in the film’s final act (and one large emotional moment at the end of the film’s 2nd act).
The Kid Who Would be King arrives in England a month after it’s North American release in which it failed to find an audience; it has been reported that the film is projected to lose upwards of £50 million dollars for studios 20th Century Fox, Working Title Films and Big Talk Productions. This is surely news that will not phase Joe Cornish. It is evident he has made the film he wanted to make and which children in the future will hopefully see.
A film of adventure, enjoyment and optimism.
The Kid Who Would Be King is now on general release in UK cinemas.