The Kid Who Would Be King

Review by Jake Cunningham @jakehcunningham

Directed by

Joe Cornish


Denise Gough Louis Ashbourne Serkis Rebecca Ferguson


A worryingly long delay for a king in waiting


Cornish has made a royally good adventure movie.

In Retrospect.

A crowning achievement.

A group of school kids embark on an Arthurian quest in Joe Cornish’s charming adventure movie.

When it rained during school lunch, rather than charge to the playground, I would occupy myself with models of Aragorn, Legolas and Gandalf. I’d tuck some books and a lunchbox under some green felt, and soon enough the table in front of me became the rolling hills of Rohan. With some cardboard and sellotape, two tables were joined by the Bridge of Khazad-dûm; with a bit more, those snack size Pringle cans were Isengard itself. Playing Lord of the Rings at school was a comforting escapist fantasy, but that’s all it was, now that Joe Cornish has made The Kid Who Would Be King, it’s a little less so.

Arriving eight years after council estate alien invasion flick Attack the Block – a perfect audition for galactic defence from John Boyega – Cornish’s second feature again places the gauntlet of earthly protection in the hands of an unexpected bearer: a 12-year-old boy named Alex, who may be the heir to King Arthur. In that time, Cornish found himself sat at tables (round or otherwise) with Disney, Marvel and Paramount to discuss potential projects, but instead of helming the deck of the Starship Enterprise, he settled on a modern retelling of the Arthurian legend that breathes a dragon breath of life into the children’s adventure film.

Alex is played by Louis Ashbourne Serkis (son of Andy) who, along with his knights of the round fold-out kitchen table, must learn the true meaning of chivalry and defeat Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), a force of moral and literal poison who has been thriving from the recent upturn in humanity’s vitriol and negativity. It’s a simple allegory, but after presenting a villain who was very much an other in Attack the Block, Cornish’s shift towards an antagonist created from within is a welcome one.

The story is simple and has signposts fit for a motorway, but perhaps its the familiarity of the tale that allows Cornish’s creativity to thrive. The love and attention to detail in the film isn’t just about filling a world, it’s all in service of its characters and their adventure. While the turret-logoed construction site hoarding that reads ‘start your story’ is a nice touch, the best example of this is the ‘men at work’ signs that through wonderful wizardry become shields for schoolchildren preparing to ward off demons of the dead.

For those unfamiliar with this particular sign, it doesn’t so much resemble a man at work but someone struggling to open a sun parasol. In this case, though, it’s a person pulling a sword from a stone. Like The Last Jedi, The Kid Who Would Be King isn’t concerned about legacy or predecessors, it’s about personal belief regardless of who came before you. It means that in the finale, when those kids line up, shields in hand, ready for Helm’s Deep on tarmac, they’re all King Arthur. They’re all legends.

When Andrew Lesnie shot The Lord of the Rings he transformed New Zealand into Middle Earth. Here, veteran cinematographer Bill Pope shoots England in a similarly epic and beautiful way, perfectly balancing the scales of landscape and character. It’s a precious thing to see on the big screen, but what’s more exciting is that, because The Kid Who Would Be King is so firmly rooted in the reality of a kid’s life, those vistas don’t feel like Middle Earth; adventure lies just outside the school gate.

Published 15 Feb 2019

Tags: Denise Gough Joe Cornish Louis Ashbourne Serkis Rebecca Ferguson


A worryingly long delay for a king in waiting


Cornish has made a royally good adventure movie.

In Retrospect.

A crowning achievement.

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