The long wait for writer-director Joe Cornish’s second feature is over, and The Kid Who Would Be King does not disappoint – though it may not be quite what fans of Attack the Block were expecting. While Kid shares its action-adventure DNA with Cornish’s debut, at its heart is the bright-eyed sincerity of a Paddington movie or Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella.
An animated prologue in the style of a children’s picture-book sets the tone for what follows: Kid runs on the sort of earnestness that is vital to any good Arthurian tale, from The Once and Future King to the BBC’s Merlin. Courage and honesty are prized above all, and the movie itself has the courage not to undercut this with sarcastic quips or winks to the audience.
This spirit is embodied by the young cast, chiefly protagonist Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) who is equally believable when undertaking a fantasy quest as when having difficult talks with his mum (Denise Gough, also great in Colette). Another standout is Angus Imrie, who hams up a storm as Merlin without straying onto the wrong side of obnoxiousness. Rebecca Ferguson’s villain is underused, but she and Patrick Stewart give their few scenes the necessary gravity.
Importantly, Kid is smart with its adaptation of Arthuriana. The episodic knights’-quest structure is still great fun after nine centuries, and the Arthur-Lancelot feud translates into slow-burning tension at Alex’s makeshift round table. The movie is best, however, when thumbing its nose at the notions of heritage and royalty that underpin the more tiresome sorts of medieval-adjacent fiction.
The Kid Who Would Be King feels at once nostalgic – like a fantasy novel you loved in primary school – and cutting-edge. Cornish delivers his version of a sword-and-sorcery adventure with the intelligence and sensitivity that kids’ films deserve, but do not always receive.
CAST: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris, Angus Imrie, Denise Gough
DIRECTOR: Joe Cornish
WRITER: Joe Cornish
SYNOPSIS: A schoolboy pulls a sword out of a stone and embarks on a quest to recruit allies, find his estranged father, and save Britain from an ancient evil.