There comes a time in a young child’s life when a legendary story takes hold of their imagination and never lets go. For some, it’s a modern myth — Star Wars, anyone? — and for others, it’s one as old as myths themselves. For Joe Cornish, it was King Arthur.
Written and directed by Cornish (Attack the Block), and inspired by an idea he had been nurturing since the age of 13, The Kid Who Would Be King is an extremely simple but thoroughly enjoyable reimagining of the Arthurian legends that remain one of Western storytelling’s greatest touchstones.
The titular kid is Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis — yes, the son of Andy), a bullied working-class 12-year-old with one loyal best friend (Dean Chaumoo) and a missing father who pulls Excalibur from a construction site and sets off a chain of events straight out of legend. Under the tutelage of Merlin — alternately played by Angus Imrie, Patrick Stewart, and an owl — Alex gathers a group of brave preteen knights to defeat Arthur’s ancient foe, the sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), before she can take advantage of Britain’s current turmoil and claim a birthright she believes was stolen from her.
Once again, this is a simple retelling of the Arthurian story, but the best ones always are. Alex accepts his destiny as only a child can, helped along by coincidences that serve as confirmation of his role as Britain’s savior. For instance, the names of his best friend and the bullies-turned-allies he enlists as knights? Bedders, Lance, and Kaye — just like famed Knights of the Round Table Bedevere, Lancelot, and Kay. Merlin’s magic mixes the old (Latin) with the new (rapid-fire hand gestures), and if Morgana’s motivations as a villain are also simplified, it’s for good reason: This family-friendly film is no place for the Lannister-esque backstory between her and her half-brother Arthur.
Though Brexit is never mentioned, its emotional and political fallout is built into the framework of The Kid Who Would Be King in much the same way Logan predicted a future wherein the United States fell under the control of a wall-building dictator. Thankfully, Kid is much more optimistic about Britain’s future than Logan is about ours, investing fully in its child heroes and their potential to save us from ourselves. This is not the first family film to blatantly set aside adults as either inconveniently obtrusive or downright harmful, but it’s certainly the most hopeful. While it may not be fair to lay the burden of an older generation’s mistakes on the shoulders of the younger, it is realistic, and the best of fantasy always illuminates those truths some would rather keep in the dark.
As a DVD / Blu-ray release, The Kid Who Would Be King is fairly standard with its array of deleted scenes, short making-of featurettes, and obligatory music video. Cornish’s enthusiasm for his lifelong passion project is felt throughout, both behind the scenes and in the film itself. But that’s really the least of what The Kid Who Would Be King has to offer.
Much like Rian Johnson and The Last Jedi, Cornish rightfully hones in on a message all children need to hear at least once in their lives — that you, a normal kid with nothing and no legendary lineage to speak of, are special. You can grow up to be a King Arthur, a Luke Skywalker, a Rey from nowhere because once upon a time, they were nobody, too. All it takes is surrounding yourself with the right people and never giving up, even when it seems like giving up is the only option.
The best of our longstanding myths and legends all tell this story, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why they endure. Children putting themselves in the shoes of heroes helps them see themselves as heroes. If we’re lucky, that’s a vision that lasts through adulthood. The Kid Who Would Be King is a good a place as any to start.
The Kid Who Would Be King is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital platforms.