What a charming bit of half-term fun this most excellent adventure should prove. I’m grateful to director Joe Cornish for providing my kids with an exciting, funny, relatable British adventure rather than a precision-tooled slice of yappy Americana for a change – Hollywood has dominated this space for way too long.
I’ve seen many references to Spielberg and 80s movies bandied about but perhaps that’s from American critics lacking the true frames of reference – what this modern-day Arthurian caper quest most reminded me of were British escapades, a souped-up, feature length Grange Hill or the Tomorrow People. All with a bigger budget and a more polished script.
Particularly refreshing is its lack of post-ironic knowingness. It’s fun for grown-ups but best, as the Hudsucker Proxy might put it, you know, for kids.
Alex is an everyday squirt, missing his Dad and getting bullied at school, him and his best mate Bedders. “We’re not at primary school now,” he wails, “we’re the most powerless people in the school.” it’s a leading bit a of dialogue, as is the bully, Lance, who, when Alex tries to stand up to his bullying, tells him: “Don’t be a hero, I”m the king around here.”
Of course, Alex is about to find limitless powers and be “the once and future king” when he pulls a sword out of a pillar on a south London building site. He and his new (diverse and representative) band of knights embark on an adventure that goes to Stonehenge and Tintagel before doubling back to the London comp, all with the help of a shape-shifting Merlin, who, with a sneeze, can turn from a lanky teenager into an owl and then into Patrick Stewart.
There are episodes along the way of this quest – the best being a car chase along what looks like the Walworth Road, and the effects are more Ray Harryhausen than Spielberg.
I wasn’t quite sure what Rebecca Ferguson as the villain Morgan was quite threatening amid the references to Brexit and Trump and dictators, but I guess that works for kids, who intuit dark forces without really knowing, or caring, about their full political meaning.
All in all, The Kid Who Would Be King trips along very smoothly, with neat asides, and some ingenious gags – the round table, the magical properties of chicken nuggets, the use of gym equipment to fend off evil – that British kids will really get, along with messages about bullying, self-esteem, education and being good to your Mum.