You’ve probably heard this story before – country goes to ruin, kid finds a sword stuck in a stone, pulls it out, is declared the once and future king of Britons and then saves the country from an evil witch.
The legend of King Arthur is one that has been told plenty of times – some immaculately (1981’s Excalibur), some messily (2017’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), and some downright hilariously (Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Heck, even Optimus Prime dabbled in some Arthurian mythology in Transformers: The Last Knight, with disastrous results.
Happily, The Kid Who Would Be King is one of the better adaptations of the King Arthur legend. It’s a feel good family film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, as many Arthurian adaptations tend to do.
The “kid” in the title refers to Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis – yes, the son of Andy Serkis), a plucky 12-year-old boy who keeps getting bullied in school, together with his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo).
One day, while on the run from bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris), he comes across a sword stuck in a stone at a building site and pulls it out.
Things start getting weird after that – a strange new kid called, er, Mertin (Angus Imrie) shows up at school, and Alex is attacked by a fearsome flaming skeleton at night. Mertin, who is of course, actually the wizard Merlin, then tells him that the sword, Excalibur, has chosen him to reform the Knights of the Round Table so that they can defeat the evil witch Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who is poised to take over the world in four days’ time.
So far, so Arthurian, right?
Well, the genius of this movie is making a bunch of modern British school kids its heroes, which immediately sets it apart from other recent Arthurian adaptations.
Young Serkis puts in a performance that would make his father proud as the earnest, good-hearted Alex, handling both the intimate emotional scenes as well as the more fantastic elements like a veteran.
Meanwhile, Chaumoo’s Bedders is probably one of the sweetest and cutest Knights of the Round Table on film ever, and is a perfect comic foil to Serkis’ more serious character.
It’s Imrie’s Mertin, however, who steals the show with his wide-eyed eccentricity and comically exaggerated spell casting arm movements, so much so that he even overshadows his older self, played by THE Patrick Stewart.
Now that is some magic trick, kid.
Unlike many adaptations of King Arthur, which tend to play up the more fantastical elements of the legends, director Joe Cornish (Attack The Block) does well to keep the story somewhat grounded in reality (save for the one part where our little heroes actually go underground).
Yes, there are battle scenes involving CGI flaming soldiers, even a dragon, but for the most part, this isn’t actually a movie about King Arthur.
It’s a movie about a kid who finds a sword, and uses it to save the world with his friends.
It may seem simple and unassuming, but it’s got a whole lot of heart.
The Kid Who Would Be King
Director: Joe Cornish
Cast: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Tom Taylor, Rebecca Ferguson, Angus Imrie, Patrick Stewart, Dean Chaumoo, Rhianna Doris, Denise Gough