Director: Joe Cornish
Writer: Joe Cornish
Stars: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Angus Imrie & Patrick Stewart
Joe Cornish hasn’t made a movie since Attack the Block in 2011, which introduced the world to John Boyega who went on to do a couple of other little sci-fi movies. It was a film that disappointed me, despite the subject – aliens – being right up my street. Cornish lost me in the opening minutes when his gang of hoodies mugged someone. These are the guys we’re supposed to be rooting for throughout the rest of the movie, but after the mugging and them showing no remorse for it, I found it hard to care about them and thought they deserved everything they had coming to them. Yes, I am very aware that I would be a terrible judge.
The Kid Who Would Be King starts off in similar territory, with school bullies using their strength and size to hurt and rob smaller kids in the playground, and again, these are characters that we’re supposed to care about later on in the film. The difference is, this time I did. Cornish has learned that a little backstory goes a long way to explaining why seemingly bad kids do the stuff they do.
I remember the King Arthur legend from my youth; well, enough to nod when certain key points come up or characters arrive, so it did make me smile to see how many little references are buried in this film. Not just in the script but in visuals and set designs too.
If you’ve seen the trailer you probably thought this looked like another Harry Potter rip-off, but it actually reminded me much more of Lord of the Rings. The long shots of them walking over plains and hills on their quest are an obvious nod to Peter Jackson’s films and the final climactic battle in the school is like the battle of Helm’s Deep re-fought at Grange Hill. Despite the large budget ($60M reportedly) the film still feels intimate and British in the best possible way, with quirky humour and council house dialogue scenes grounding it in a realism most movies with this budget would steer clear of. But it works! You care about these kids from the get-go because the mix of fantasy and reality makes it relatable, in the same way as the Potter books and films always starting with Harry at his aunt and uncle’s house do. It’s a little detail, but it’s important.
Louis Ashbourne Serkis (king of motion-capture Andy’s son) is very good in the lead. He’s small but has an inner strength and sense of right and wrong that we never doubt for a second. His best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) is the comedy relief and is reminiscent of Peter’s friend Ned in Spider-man: Homecoming, and he also has his own little story arc to complete. But special recognition has to be given to Angus Imrie, playing the young version of Merlin – Patrick Stewart plays the older version – who is so off-the-wall and madcap that he feels like he’s jumped off the page of a Douglas Adams novel. The cast give it their all and it shows. This has obviously been a labour of love for Cornish and I think the end result is a very enjoyable movie with its heart in the right place.
The young leads may prove off-putting for many fantasy fans, even though they’re dealing with the same issues teenage and even grown-up heroes are still dealing with. There is a good deal of wish-fulfilment in many SFF fans, so those who dream of finding themselves in Han Solo’s shoes (and Princess Leia’s arms), probably don’t dream of being a short, bullied twelve year-old, so this film may have trouble earning back its budget, which is a shame, because it’s really quite impressive and the sort of thing I wish got made more often in Blighty.
So good on you, Joe – this is epic. The days of ‘it might look a bit crap but that’s because we make it ourselves’ are firmly behind you. Come on, who gets that reference?