We’ve had plenty of spins on the legend of King Arthur over the years. Probably the most enjoyable for me was BBC show ‘Merlin’, which ran for 5 seasons between 2008 and 2012, focusing on the early life of the famous sorcerer and King Arthur. Probably the worst take on it all was Guy Ritchie’s god awful ‘Legend Of The Sword‘ back in 2017. Joe Cornish, writer/director of the brilliant 2011 movie ‘Attack The Block’, follows that movie with a fresh spin of his own in ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’.
For those of us who are unfamiliar with the legend of Arthur, or who had it’s memory tarnished by Mr Guy Ritchie, it’s recapped for us here in a nice little animated sequence right at the start of the movie. It tells how the evil Morgana was banished to the underworld, vowing to return once more when the world is again divided and at its weakest.
We then join Alex (played by Louis Serkis, son of Andy Serkis), a 12 year old schoolboy living with his mother. He’s having some trouble with bullies at school, made worse by his attempts to stand up to them as they terrorise his friend Bedders. One night, while fleeing from bullies Lance and Kay, he stumbles into a building site where he discovers a sword set in stone. He manages to pull it free and takes it home in his backpack, where he and Bedders determine that the sword is in fact the legendary Excalibur.
The next day a mysterious new boy joins them at school. Turns out, he is in fact Merlin, taking the form of a younger boy. He informs Alex and Bedders that they must form a team of knights in order to prepare for the imminent return of Morgana and her army of dead soldiers. They have just 4 days, with her arrival taking place during an upcoming solar eclipse. If they cannot stop her, then she will enslave the Earths inhabitants.
Alex believes that his father is key to all of this, and that he is in fact descended from Arthur, so he decides to go on a quest to Tintagel, the last place that he saw his father. Alex leaves a note for his mum – “Gone on quest to save Britain, don’t worry!” and begins ‘knighting’ Bedders, and eventually bullies Lance and Kay, as only those that have been knighted are able to see and fight the dead soldiers that come at night.
Their journey takes them via coach, through a portal at Stone Henge, and on a trek across the English countryside where they stop to allow Merlin time to provide them with the sword training they need in order to stand any chance of defeating Morgana. Merlin regularly changes his form, switching between young boy, an owl and his true elderly self (played by Patrick Stewart). In the form of a boy, Merlin is a little bit wacky, performing his magic with a series of clicking hand movements, something which became very annoying for me after the first few times. I get that this is a story about kids banding together and overcoming evil, but part of me just wishes that Merlin had stayed in his adult form of Patrick Stewart as I really wasn’t so keen on the younger version at all.
It’s also around this time, for a fairly lengthy period in the middle, that I felt the movie slowed and struggled a little. Thankfully though, things improved considerably for the final act, pulling everything together and delivering a hugely enjoyable finale. As the solar eclipse plunges their school into darkness, an army of armour clad school children battle the flame engulfed skeletal warriors and attempt to defeat the dragon-like Morgana. It’s the kind of movie you’d love to watch as a child – no adults, just the kids rising up and overpowering evil. In fact, my daughter enjoyed this a lot more than I did, offering up her own 4.5 rating, so there you go!
I would have liked a little more from the great Patrick Stewart, and Rebecca Ferguson as Morgana isn’t quite evil enough for me, but overall this is a really fun family movie and that’s largely down to it’s young stars, who are all fantastic. As shown in Attack the Block, Joe Cornish has a real skill for blending the ordinary with the fantastical and empowering his young characters with the traits of a hero or a leader.