What would happen if a 12 year old British boarding school boy somehow came across the sword in the stone and was given the Arthurian task of uniting a deeply divided society to fight against a an ancient evil threatening world domination? This is the premise of Joe Cornish’s upcoming second outing as a writer/director, The Kid Who Would Be King. Cornish is known as a frequent writing partner with the quarky, brilliant filmmaker Edgar Wright (writing Ant-Man and the ridiculously underrated Adventures of Tintin that was directed by Steven Spielberg) and for being the writer/director of 2011’s Attack of the Block.
Here is the synopsis of Kid:
Old-school magic meets the modern world when young Alex stumbles upon the mythical sword Excalibur. He soon joins forces with a band of knights and the legendary wizard Merlin when the wicked enchantress Morgana threatens the future of mankind.
Like Cornish’s previous film, Attack of the Block, the film is quite British. And unfortunately in this case it can be a bit like British food: a tad bland and generic. For example, after a quite beautifully animated introduction of the Arthurian story, the film starts out the way that many films about uniformed British school children do: bullies beating up either the protagonist or one of their friends. However, it being British also comes with all the things that we love about stories that come from across the pond, like beautiful cinematography and brilliant actors giving brilliant performances.
The obvious standout performance of the film is that of Merlin, who is portrayed by Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: the Next Generation, many of the X-Men films) as an older Merlin who appears sporadically throughout the film. However, the younger version of the character is played by a relative newcomer, Angus Imrie. Imrie seems to have the makings of an Oscar-worthy character actor in the British tradition trailblazed by the likes of Gary Oldman and Mark Rylance. His ability to convincingly come across as a quarky old Patrick Stewart stuck in a young man’s body really is remarkable. We also saw the beautiful, ubiquitous Rebecca Ferguson (the latest Mission Impossible films, The Greatest Showman) as quite a good, if under-utilized, villainess Morgana.
The script is polished, yet still a bit paint-by-numbers. There aren’t really any less than good scenes in the film, yet there aren’t many that actually stand out as great. The themes were fleshed out quite well and certainly the message was hammered in. Some of these themes are a tad spoilery, so it wouldn’t be prudent to write about them here. However, the main theme was that when world is divided as a people, they are weak. And conversely, when they are united, they’re unstoppable. Great Britain seems to be almost as divided as the United States right now, which is used as the catalyst for the rise of Morgana as she sees this as her best time to strike and take over the country and the world. When illustrating the divisions it never says one side is right or wrong, just that it seems to be unbridgeable. This was refreshing, because so often people on each side of an issue call for unity, but aren’t willing to give ground and meet in the middle themselves.
The Kid Who Would Be King is a good family-friendly moral tale. It is among the best films to deal with the Arthurian legend, though the bar isn’t exactly high in that regard. As a parent, I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to, but I can’t imagine that my 10 year old self wouldn’t have adored it (my 10 year old daughter really liked it, for what it’s worth).