You may have thought we were done with Arthurian legends given the dud-showing at the box office of Guy Ritchie’s cockney, bar brawling King Arthur film crash landed in 2017, but Joe Cornish is here to show that there’s life left in this age old tale of a man and his sword. In this enjoyable original take on the legend of Excalibur, Louis Ashbourne Serkis plays Alex, a kid who cops a load of bullying from Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). He’s not alone with receiving a handful of abuse, with his best mate Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) also receiving a truck load of flack for simply existing. One day after school, Lance and Kaye chase Alex all the way to a construction site where he falls off a ledge and is knocked out. Lance and Kaye flee, fearing they’ve done the worst, unaware that they’ve just chased Alex to his destiny. Upon awakening, Alex discovers… a sword in a stone. From here, his fate is sealed, for Alex will be The Kid Who Would Be King.
Joe Cornish has been absent from the director’s chair for far too long. After wowing with Attack the Block – and launching the career of one John Boyega, and giving a hoist to a certain Doctor Who – went quiet. Sure, he provided some scripting assistance here and there, but the world needed a new Joe Cornish flick. Instead of mourning his absence, let’s celebrate his reappearance with The Kid Who Would Be King, which feels as much a revival of a director with promise as it does the great action kids flicks from the eighties. Now, this isn’t a dive into nostalgia, but instead a film that takes all that was good about kids flicks from that era and simply blends that skeleton with the armour of Arthurian legends.
While mining those legends could lead to a wealth of deep lore being explored, Cornish knows to keep the plot simple. After pulling the sword out of the stone, Alex manages to awaken Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), a sorceress who is entombed in roots and vines underground. Morgana sees the upcoming solar eclipse to send the undead up to earth to claim the land and rule the world. It’s up to Alex and his cohorts to stop the world from falling to an army of the undead.
Not only is Cornish a natural talent at stretching his directing muscles, but it’s clear that given the well fleshed out characters here that he’s also an adept writer. Cornish knows that he’s crafting a kids film through and through, one that is clearly for the eight-to-fourteen year old market, and does so by filling the film with joyous nods to things that make modern kids what they are. When Merlin (played with superb duality by Angus Imrie and Patrick Stewart) appears and spins some magic, wannabe magician Bedders whips out his phone to record the series of hand movements and finger clicks so he can learn it later on. Elsewhere, when a small troupe of flaming swordsmen on horses (way to bury the lead Andrew – this film has flaming swordsmen on soldiers folks) arrive to stake out the world, the team steals a car, and with Kaye at the wheel she quips that she learned her superb driving skills ‘from Mario Kart’. The jokes aren’t exactly frequent, but they’re often enough to keep a smile on your face.
If there’s one area that the film is let down, it’s the role of the villainous Morgana. Rebecca Ferguson is given little to work with, and never really given the opportunity to take flight as a truly fearsome foe for the kids to conquer. And while the effects heavy climax is one heck of a ‘jump out of your seat and cheer’ affair, Ferguson is drenched in most of those effects that she gets lost in the pixels. A greater villain might have made the film a touch bit better, but it’s a small quibble in a film that’s full of childlike energy that excites you in all the right ways.
Where Attack the Block slipped in a thematic dive into poverty in the UK, The Kid Who Would Be King also slips in some subtle tools that might prepare kids for the current realm of darkness that the modern world finds itself in. Parents may struggle to hide the darkness from kids, and kids may find the presence of darkness in the world tough to understand. The Kid Who Would Be King puts forward four rules of being a knight which might just give the kids the tools they can use to help combat the darkness in the world themselves. Cornish isn’t laying this on thick – it is a subtext after all -, and he’s not suggesting that kids should wear the weight entirely, but he’s merely saying, look, kids, there’s going to be struggles that you will face, but you will be ok in the end.
This is a rip roaring kids flick that is the exact sort that people both young and old should jump into. It’s got that eighties feel to it, but that nostalgic feel has been modernised in the best way possible. Exciting, energetic, enjoyable, and downright fun – The Kid Who Would Be King is one of the best live action kids films in years. Don’t miss it.
Director: Joe Cornish
Cast: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Angus Imrie
Writer: Joe Cornish