Joe Cornish hasn’t had the best run of luck as a director. He broke out with Attack the Block in 2011 and it’s taken eight years for him to give us another film. Through no fault of his own I might add, as he’s been plugging away on projects but I guess that’s just how the cookie crumbles, even for an up-and-coming director and a man with talent and friends in high places (hello Edgar Wright and Steven Spielberg).
Anyway, that’s all behind him now because his second big studio film as director is a pure delight. The Kid Who Would Be King harkens back to films like The Goonies and Stand By Me. A spirit perhaps only recently recaptured in TV show Stranger Things.
We start with 12-year-old schoolkid Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of actor Andy Serkis), standing up to bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), protecting his weaker friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo). In one scrap Alex finds himself in a building site and discovers a sword stuck in a lump of concrete. Turns out this is the sword in the stone, Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur. Who would’ve thunk it?
These events awaken evil sorcesses Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who seems to be trapped in a tree underground. She wants the sword for herself – to unleash evil on the world and that sort of thing. Alex pulling the sword out the stone also triggers Merlin (Angus Imrie, son of actor Celia Imrie) to return to the mortal realm (in the form of a teenager) to help Alex on his quest to defeat Morgana.
Alex ends up teamed up with aforementioned bullies Lance and Kaye, as well as the trusty Bedders. The four of them must learn how to become warriors and stop Morgana once and for all.
Now, plot wise, there are some pretty big leaps you have to take in order to be on board with the story, but this doesn’t matter that much. If you’re picking holes in the plot you’re probably the kind of person that refuses to be swept up in the magic of it all. Shame on you.
Because, in short, this film is utterly charming. It’s the sort you watch when you’re sad and need cheering up. Or you’re hungover. Or it’s Sunday and you’re visiting the family and need something that everyone can watch. And this isn’t to put it down in any way.
Making this sort of film is actually very hard to do.
It’s got real heart, charm and inventiveness. Simply put, it’s a good-natured feel-good tale. Phrases that get thrown around a lot, but genuinely apply here.
And the dynamic between the four ‘knights of the round table’: Alex, Bedders, Lance and Kaye, are the sort you just don’t see in film these days. Admittedly Lance and Kaye are a little underserved as characters, but Serkis and Chaumoo as Alex and Bedders have real chemistry. Serkis in particular, has clearly inherited a lot of his father’s skills as an actor. For a boy that’s barely even a teenager he leads the film well and holds the screen.
And then there’s Merlin.
Angus Imrie, also, must have picked up a trick or two from his mother Celia. He’s quite fantastic as teenage Merlin – for example in the way he performs his spells cutting shapes with his hands, to the way he walks and holds his body and gazes at you intently and disconcertingly in a somewhat devious manner. He elevates the film. Moreover, every now and then he switches into old Merlin (Patrick Stewart), which is both surprising and a little heartbreaking.
My slight niggle is that Rebecca Ferguson as Morgana is underserved – even more so than Lance and Kaye. Which is a shame as Ferguson is a fantastic actor. She could have brought some real menace and threat as Morgana, but for the most part she’s fused to a tree underground, stuck whispering commands to minions.
In one scene she gets a face to face with Merlin and I began to get excited, thinking we’d get to see a real juicy exchange between them. Sadly it didn’t last long. However, I get why. The star of this film is Alex and the focus is on him, and to a lesser extent, Bedders.
And in that I can be satisfied.
So, if you’re hungover, or sad, or tired, or anything really – go watch this film.
You’ll come out feeling that life is a little better with your heart and your cockles (whatever they are) truly warmed.