‘I’ ON CULTURE
An updated King Arthur story, set in modern England, is the charming conceit behind The Kid Who Would Be King. Just as in the Camelot stories, England is split and angry and in need of a leader who has courage and perseverance. Well, Arthur is not around, so why not 12-year-old Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), a rather chubby, sweet kid who is willing to stand up to bullies?
Alex is a good kid, willing to intervene against the two toughest kids in school, Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) when they attack his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo). He gets detention for that, along with the bullies. Leaving school, they chase him, he runs and hides in a building site where he finds a sword in a stone. He pulls it out and, not knowing its meaning, hides it in his closet.
Suddenly, monsters are after him. Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), buried millennia ago by Merlin, is awakened by the removal of the sword and grows stronger. She wants the sword, Excalibur, for herself. But that awakens Merlin (Patrick Stewart), who comes to the 21st century in the guise of a 16-year-old boy (Angus Imrie), who desperately needs sustenance through things like beetle’s bodies and animal bones, which he finds are contained in the chicken he can get from “Finger Lickin’ Good.” I found that one of the better jokes.
Calling himself Merton, he chases after Alex and Bedders, bringing them even more to the attention of the bullies. Alex tricks the two teen thugs into accepting knighthoods from him, Lance becoming Lancelot, of course, and Kaye as Lady Kaye. With Bedders, renamed Bedevere, already in the group, they battle a few fearsome monsters and set off on a journey across England. Merton gets them off a bus and starts them walking, although they’re a long distance off, near Stonehenge. Alex begins to grow up, the bullies learn some responsibility and Bedders becomes the moral center of the group.
Eventually, of course, they enter the underworld for a battle that leads into another one at the school.
Much of the film is rather simple and juvenile, perfect for kids, particularly boys, although the major role taken by the female Kaye as a fierce warrior is notable. Many of the gags were set to be enjoyed by that crowd and not so much by adults. Mixing with all of that is a so-called moral message that had to be stated over and over rather than shown, which would be better for adults.
The acting, considering most of it was done by young people, was remarkably good. Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of great body capture actor Andy Serkis, was perfectly sincere and stalwart while trying to balance the leadership needed with reassurances to his mother (Denise Gough), who is partly convinced he is nuts. There is a great scene where he demonstrates that he is quite sane. She gives a charming performance as a single mother who is semi-clueless as to what is happening. Taylor and Dorris are appropriately nasty, even a bit slimy, but then strong supporters, giving solid performances. Ferguson is wasted; most of what she does goes through CGI and not very well. Stewart, who in the few scenes he is in looks like he just rolled out of bed and came on set, is appropriately stern and avuncular. Imrie steals a lot of his scenes, but often through over-acting. Since the part is more or less impossible, that can certainly be forgiven. Chaumoo, however, steals just about every scene he is in, simply by being the moral center of the film while looking like a teddy bear.
There are some wonderful views of England as writer-director Joe Cornish, who did the wonderful Attack the Block a few years ago, manages to contrast the dirty middle class suburbs in England with the beauty of the Cornwall coast. The special effects are good but hardly spectacular. By now, run of the mill in that area is reserved for not really great television. Here, almost all the manifestations are horseback warriors with lights for eyes (the horses’ eyes as well). That brings down costs but is very limiting.
The film is OK. If you have a young boy in the family, he will be thrilled by the movie, as will some girls. It is not that hard for adults to sit through and has a few twists that will be interesting. However, this is better seen on television.