When I was just a nipper and there was such a thing as ‘Saturday Morning Pictures,’ I would often watch features from the Children’s Film Foundation. These were stories about gangs of plucky kids, coming together to solve a crime or save a theatre or take on invading aliens – you name it. I mention this mostly because there’s something about The Kid Who Would Be King that rather reminds me of those films – albeit this time with the advantage of a sixty-million-dollar budget.
Joe Cornish made an impressive directorial debut with Attack the Block seven years ago and, after some messing about in Hollywood, he’s gone back to an idea he first came up with as a teenager, and which has been bubbling around in his head ever since.
This is the story of Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), a mild mannered twelve-year-old, who, together with his best mate, Bedders (Dean Chambo), is the subject of bullying at his secondary school, mostly at the hands of Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris). (The bullying, by the way, is the unconvincing sort you only ever see in movies – holding somebody upside down to shake the coins from his pockets, etc.) One night, chased into a building site by his oppressors, Alex finds an old sword embedded in a stone and easily plucks it out. Pretty soon, he’s approached by Merlin (played by Angus Imrie and, occasionally Sir Patrick Stewart), who informs him that he is now ‘the once and future king,’ and that ‘divided Britain’ is at the mercy of evil witch, Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) and her armies of the undead. Only a hero of epic proportions can save the world from disaster. By the way, those who think they are spotting a Brexit allegory here should be aware that Cornish claims it’s just a coincidence. You decide.
The film has a pleasing, amiable feel about it with plenty of in-jokes mixed in with the admittedly impressive action sequences. For the most part, it works a treat. If there’s an occasional tendency towards mawkishness, well, those bits are mercifully brief and soon enough, we’re flung headlong back into the action.
However, though the legions of flaming skeleton knights are initially pretty impressive, they are perhaps somewhat overused. A final confrontation between a bunch of school kids and the forces of darkness feels unnecessarily protracted and I think TBWWBK could easily had shed thirty minutes in the telling to ensure it keeps a firmer grip on an audience’s attention. I also can’t help feeling a little bit sorry for Rebecca Ferguson, chained to a wall for half the movie and spending the rest of it morphing into a hideous lizard-like monster. Well, that’s show business.
But quibbles aside, this is a film that is squarely aimed at a young audience, who will surely enjoy its deft blend of thrills, chills and chuckles. So it’s somewhat disappointing to note that at the afternoon performance we attend, there are perhaps only two kids in the rather sparse crowd. The film has already had a disappointing showing at the American box office where Arthurian mythology doesn’t mean an awful lot to the average viewer. It would be nice to see this do a whole lot better here.
If you have youngsters in need of entertainment, get them to a screening of this before it turns into an owl and flies away.