Released: 17th January
Seen: 27th January
One of the most enduring stories of all time is the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It’s the kind of story that has been retold more times than I dare to count and in every form you can imagine. It’s a glorious story about a group of men brought together out of loyalty and friendship who fight to defend their country and the iconic imagery from it is a key element of our culture. The adaptations of this story can focus on anyone in it, from Merlin to Arthur or even one of the knights, it’s a great classic tale and we have another adaptation of it and, to the surprise of almost no one, the story still finds a way to resonate with the audience and capture our imagination.
The Kid Who Would Be King follows Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), a regular English kid with a single mother (Denise Gough) who is trying her best to be a good mother after her husband walked out on them. Alex keeps noticing how everyone is being torn apart, not only in his own family but around the world; it’s a time where people seem unable to come together. Alex’s only friend in the world is a boy named Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) and he spends every school day desperately trying to avoid the two school bullies, Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kay (Rhianna Doris). One day, while running away from the bullies, Alex stumbles upon a dishevelled building site and in it, a large sword stuck deep in stone. Once Alex pulls the sword from the stone, his first great adventure can begin… provided he can do it without getting in trouble for skipping school.
The film opens with some really wonderful animation that fills everyone in on the legend in a light and easily digestible way, just in case this story hadn’t been hammered into your heads enough throughout the years. From that jumping off point, what follows is a very traditional children’s movie that wouldn’t have felt out of place in the ’90s on VHS. I genuinely mean this as a compliment when I say this feels like a film I would’ve gleefully rented at Blockbuster when I was younger. There’s a strangely timeless quality that is never really broken, except maybe with references to Shrek or Mario Kart, though those little moments do help this film feel like a lost relic of a previous decade. I respect that this film didn’t lean into more modern references, a lesser film would’ve probably used a Fortnite reference to rally the troops for a battle scene but everything here feels old and lived in, which adds to the charm.
The opening scenes of this movie feel like they’re ticking all the boxes of how to introduce characters, our hero saving his best friend from the bullies is basically the first scene and it sets up every character dynamic easily. Louis Serkis is a great child actor which shouldn’t be a shock considering his parents are Lorraine Ashbourne and Andy Serkis, talent in that family is goddamn genetics at this point. He makes Alex into a perfect King Arthur analogue, showing kindness and strength in equal measure. Within mere minutes of meeting him, we establish that he is a good friend and is willing to put himself in harm’s way to defend the people he cares about. Dean Chaumoo as Bedders has such a charm that even when his performance is a little off (In the same way a lot of child performers can be, so you can easily look past it) you still see his shy nature slowly change into one of the most courageous members of the group. Considering this is his first theatrical role, I can’t wait to see how this actor grows over time. Speaking of first-timers, Rhianna Dorris as Kaye gives the movie possibly its best supporting performance and easily its best line of dialogue. Finally, rounding out the main cast of kids, there’s Tom Taylor whom you might remember as the lead of The Dark Tower a few years ago. While I didn’t care for that film, Tom really had some serious potential and in this film, he shows just how good he can be. A bully is the kind of character that can be really stereotypical and it’s hard to sell the change from bully to ally, but goddamn it Tom pulls it off so well. He makes you root for Lance to become Lancelot throughout the course of the film and when he takes on the mantle that his namesake suggests, it’s one of the high points in the film. These are all people whom you’re going to want to keep an eye on because they’re going to go places, every one of these kids are spectacular leads who also have a sensational supporting cast backing them up.
Heading up that incredible backing cast is Angus Imrie as a younger version of Merlin (The old version is played by Patrick Stewart, who is great in the few scenes he has and I’d love to see him play the character again but he’s basically a cameo intended to get this film attention). Angus played Merlin when he’s disguised as a teenager and it’s almost pure art how he portrays him, there’s the poise of a much older man in how he struts around and the comedic aspect of him trying to blend in is just hilarious. I laughed so hard any time Angus would do anything that was clearly the character being out of place, he’s a gifted physical comic that makes every joke sing. Lastly, I need to praise Rebecca Ferguson as Morgana because she has possibly the hardest role, a villain who spends next to no time on screen but still needs to seem formidable. She only has her voice to work with for a large part of the film and god damn it, she’s incredible. The image of her covered in branches, essentially bonded permanently to the wall of the underworld where she is stuck, is an impactful sight that makes you instantly know how much work went in to keep her from taking over and the moment she breaks free from those bonds, you know that our main characters are in for a hard fight.
The visuals, for the most part, fit in with the idea of this being an older film. Some of the CGI is a little off and some visuals don’t work, but then you’ll get sequences like the fog covered lake or the underground itself which looks amazing as… well, hell. When it doesn’t work, it does stand out a lot more because we’re comparing it to some truly incredible highs. The highs are, pretty much, every single battle sequence. Joe Cornish, as a director and writer, created some great setups for some intense action scenes that just bring out a sense of genuine joy and wonder from everyone, no matter how old you might be. You might think you’re too old to see a film where a bunch of zombie soldiers emerge from the ground, bearing swords made of fire while riding on flaming horses to chase down a bunch of children who’re heading right towards the edge of a cliff but I promise you that you’re not. The action scenes are so fun and energetic that you instantly feel like a kid again, which is one of the key ideas this film has.
See, when it comes to the ideas behind The Kid Who Would Be King, it’s heavily leaning into the idea that we live in a world divided and that we can only stand up to truly evil things when we push our hatred aside and come together. This is a major element of the film, it’s how they can do the entire “Bully becomes friend” storyline and make it feel fresh again. In a time where the slightest mention of anything can make people angry, it’s nice to have a film that champions the idea of putting our differences aside and working together to deal with something bigger than ourselves. There’s also a lot about trusting kids to know what’s going on, a recurring theme in a lot of these kinds of films but The Kid Who Would Be King is practically beating you over the head with the idea that you can’t lie to your children about the real world, they’re going to find out and they’re going to want to help, another ideas that seems more relevant than ever in our current world where several of the biggest protests and political movements are being spearheaded by children.
The secret of this film is that it might look timeless and it might feel like it was a forgotten gem that snuck into a video store, its message and ideas are incredibly modern feeling. It doesn’t shy away from some harsh realities of the world, addressing them without specifically naming them. It tries to give every kid in the audience a champion to look up to, someone in the film to admire for their bravery. It’s a great family action film that parents and children alike can easily enjoy, the kind of film that we all would’ve probably watched at home on a barely functioning VHS player only now it’s on the big screen and you should get your kids to see it. If nothing else, it’s a great introduction to the Arthurian legend.