‘The Kid Who Would Be King’: A square peg in a round table
Review of the legend of King Arthur adaptation
Ever since Thomas Malory pulled together stories from the medieval period and turned them into his epic La Morte D’Arthur in the 15th century, the legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table has held a special place in the heart of Western culture.
With its mix of magic, chivalry, moral virtue and heroism it’s the kind of story that has seen it being continuously reborn for new generations from TH White’s 1958 novel The Sword in the Stone to the Disney adaptation of that book in 1963, to the action-heavy clumsiness of Guy Ritchie’s recent version. The legend continues to provide a mine of material for all sorts of directors.
It’s also the basis for nearly every one of your favourite childhood magical adventure stories, from Star Wars, The Goonies, The Neverending Story, to the Harry Potter series. Enter British director Joe Cornish, whose 2011 cult hit Attack the Block gave a new spin on the humans vs aliens genre with its cheeky and fresh story of a group of working class London teenagers tasked with saving the world.
Cornish transplants the Arthur legend to present-day London, where dreamer kid Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of actor Andy Serkis) lives with his single mother (Denise Gough) and tries his best to help out his nerdy, bullied bestie Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) in his battles with school nasties Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris).
When Alex finds and then pulls a strange sword from a stone on a construction site, an ages-old battle is reignited and he, together with his friends and a little help from oddball young Merlin (Angus Imrie), must defeat the long dormant evil witch Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson).
Cornish injects plenty of gentle humour, some sentimental parental strife and enough effective reworks of traditional elements of the story to give The Kid Who Would be King all the weapons it needs to be the kind of adult and children pleasing adventure in the vein of the 1980s charmers he’s obviously grown up with.
There’s also – for most of the film – a refreshingly reserved reliance on CGI and over-the-top effects and sequences. For its first 90 minutes it’s a charming, old-school adventure that’s easy to enjoy and hard to dislike. But a lot of Cornish and his cast’s good work is unfortunately undone by an extra-half hour which relies far too much on CGI trickery and gimmicks to feel true to the spirit of what’s gone before.
Kids these days are bombarded with effects and superheroes as well as complicated character universes. Cornish experienced something very different when he was gobbling up 1980s family adventures. The director has attempted to walk a line between his influences and the demands of young audiences and has fallen a little short. That’s not to take anything away from the many parts of the film that work by relying on tested entertainment principles but it can’t quite lift itself on its gentle charm and humour alone and that’s a shame.