Directed by: Joe Cornish
Runtime: 119 minutes
Kids’ films often are given a lot more slack than your traditional cinematic fair; I have had many conversations with adults who have defended a poorly-written film with, ‘Yeah, but it’s a kids’ film. You can’t expect much.’ I have always disagreed with this notion. Yes, films directed at children are held to a different criteria to the latest Tarantino-flick, but that doesn’t diminish their expected quality. When I went to see The Kid Who Would Be King, I was aware that the film wasn’t really for me, but I also realised that watching a stranger’s child for their every reaction to the film would mean a potential conversation with a police officer. However, through hearing the cheers of the children in the audience, and letting my inner child flourish, I can safely say The Kid Who Would Be King is a solid, entertaining children’s film that did not need to be as entertaining as it was.
A twelve-year-old boy, Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), discovers a sword sticking out of a stone in a building site when running away from bullies. After pulling it out with ease, Merlin (played fantastically by both Angus Imrie and Patrick Stewart), masquerading as a teenage student, gives our hero the typical call-to-action, telling him he must defeat the evil sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) to save Britain. It is a simple, yet at once interesting and adorable premise that culminates in Alex banding together his schoolmates to create a kid army to defeat Morgana and her monsters. The plot does drag slightly in the last third, but mostly, the film is a fun romp that is entertaining throughout.
The child actors are well cast and are obviously having the time of their lives, and their enthusiasm for the film does become contagious. The highlight of the performances is definitely in Angus Imrie’s interpretation of teenage-Merlin, providing a perfect balance of wisdom and whimsy that the character needed to inject into the story. I found myself wanting to see more of this actor in the future, and truly do believe he is one to watch. Rebecca Ferguson does fine as the generically evil presence with a raspy voice. The characters were believable, and I found myself caring about every single one of them as they went through their journey. Surprisingly, some scenes did pack an emotional punch and make my heart genuinely ache for our main character.
As a relatively small-scale British kids’ film, my expectations were set quite low. I was surprised by the film’s inventiveness: small ideas making memorable moments in a story that really could have been paint-by-numbers. This film is an example of children’s cinema that can be held to a standard of quality without having to bend to the same rules of wider cinema. It was fun, engaging, and simple enough to understand, yet it continuously brought fresh ideas and some well-written dialogue that catapulted it from merely ‘watchable’ to genuinely enjoyable for the adults in the room. I had a lot of fun with this film, and will definitely watch it again if it pops up on TV on a Sunday afternoon.