“An evil army to fight, a demon to slay, a world to save. No pressure.”
Directed by Joe Cornish
Starring Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Doris, Rebecca Ferguson, Angus Imrie and Patrick Stewart
Alex (Serkis) is a twelve year old boy, struggling alongside his friend Bedders (Chaumoo) with school bullies Lance (Taylor) and Kaye (Doris). Chased onto a building site, he discovers a sword in a block of concrete, thus becoming rightwise king of England. Soon, a new boy arrives and explains that he is Merlin (Imrie, or sometimes Stewart), and that Alex needs to rally his forces against the undead armies of the long-bound sorceress Morgana (Ferguson).
Led by the inscription in a book of Arthurian lore and a chance phrase from his mother, Alex goes in search of his father, expecting to find a great warrior, only to discover that his demons were metaphorical, and that the book was not a gift from him, but from Alex’s mother. When Alex’s ensuing resentment of his mother keeps him from the spiritual purity needed to slay Morgana, he and his knights – Bedders, Lance and Kaye – must rally the entire school to battle an army of the undead.
What’s wrong with it?
The film doesn’t trust its audience’s attention span, and frequently has someone – usually Merlin – quickly reiterate the group’s current goals.
It turns out there’s a limit to how hard you can drill an underage actor, and as a result the fight work is… at best okay.
What’s right with it?
The young actors are all decent, with Imrie stealing every scene, but the others providing solid straight work, and Serkis in particular carrying the emotional load well for an actor of his years.
The film takes a pleasing detour from the hereditary sovereignty often associated with Arthurian myth, with Alex discovering that he owes nothing to his father, and Merlin explaining that the sword has always chosen on merit, and that it is Morgana who is obsessed with her own hereditary right to rule.
The overall messages, that children are the leaders of the future, and that changing the world is the work of years of pursuing the course of what is right, are particularly timely.
There’s a decent spread of representation, although the white boys are front and centre.
How bad is it really?
I very much enjoyed this film, and am very glad to have caught up with it after missing it at the cinema. A skilled young cast and an energetic production carry a slight story with a strong and relevant theme. It’s very much a family movie, so it’s not going to meet every adult’s standards for movie night, but it’s a lot of fun.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Faced with the rise of Morgana and her army, Alex and his knights recruit the rest of their school. I like the fact that Merlin mesmerises the faculty, but the students have to volunteer for their participation to be valid, and the ‘production line for knights’ is kind of adorkable.
What’s up with…?
- Badger urine in the vanilla sodas?
- Merlin turning into an owl? I mean, he’s specifically diurnal in this film, and surely a merlin would make more sense.
Production values – With a budget roughly on a par with half of Game of Thrones season 8, The Kid Who Would be King manages its use of effects perfectly to make the threat sinister, obviously fantastical, but reasonably convincing on the screen. The fighting isn’t great, but the improvised defences of the school are beautifully realised. 9
Dialogue and performances – Child actors are an infamously variable quality, but this lot is Harry Potter +, with legacy boys Imrie and Serkis thriving in tough roles. The script is bouncy, and the kids have a lot of fun with it. 6
Plot and execution – Solid plotting and good pacing carry this film through its sillier moments. 7
Randomness – Badger urine? 5
Waste of potential – This is as solid a piece of realisation for a left-field concept as I have seen in quite some time. 3