There is something about The Kid Who Would be King gets right that other King Arthur movies don’t. It embraces the ideology and mythology of King Arthur. It doesn’t try to be realistic or gritty. But instead it is a source of hope and inspiration. Some of my favorite fantasy books have been based on the Arthurian legends. Some of the screen adaptations have not faired so well, though. Sure Excalibur is a classic, but some of it is a bit silly. Merlin was a decent retelling and straight up Fantasy for the BBC.
After a brief prologue that sets the background for this particular take on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, we are introduced to Alex Elliott (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), a twelve-year-old boy being raised by a single mother and attending middle school in London. He and his best friend, Bedders are both the subject of bullying by fellow classmates, Lance and Kaye.
The world is a dark place: international strife; global conflicts; basically our real world. And anybody who is familiar with Arthurian lore knows that after his last battle, and near death, Arthur is taken away to Avalon where his wounds will be healed and in a time of our darkest need, the King will return to fight the forces of evil.
One day, while running away from them, Alex finds himself at a construction site where he encounters a sword embedded into a block of concrete. The inevitable happens and Alex pulls the sword out. (I seriously heard Wagner’s music in my head from Excalibur as this was happening.) After taking it home and running the engraving through Google Translate — come on, it’s still a kids movie after all — they find that it says it is Excalibur the sword of King Arthur. Alex playfully knights his best mate, Bedders.
Meanwhile deep beneath the earth, Morgana, the half-sister and eternal enemy of Arthur is awakening and sends he minions after Arthur to retrieve Excalibur. At Stonehenge, Merlin, in the guise of a teenager appears to aid Arthur. He suffers from a bit of time confusion as he is not quite assimilated to the timeline yet. But he makes his way to Arthur and Bedders’ school. Using his powers, he joins the school as a transfer student. It is revealed that in four days a total lunar eclipse will occur and that is when Morgana will reappear fully on earth.
What follows is Alex eventually recruiting Lance and Kaye as knights to aid him on a quest to find his absent father, who happens to live in Titagel, legendary home of Camelot. Knighting his companions also allows them to see the dark minions that periodically attack Arthur and Bedders as when they appear, time freezes and no one else can see them.
The story focuses on the need to not only work together despite differences but to also believe that the world can be a better place. Along the way, the uneasy friendship that Lance and Kaye have with Alex and Bedders will be tested as well as Alex’s belief in himself.
As the time of the eclipse draws to a mere few hours away, Alex must convince and recruit an army to defend the world from the evil of Morgana. So what better place to recruit an army but school? In a stretch of the suspension of disbelief, even for a fantasy film, an army of middle schoolers are armed, trained, and set up a fortifications and traps to await Morgana’s army.
This movie had so many opportunities to go sideways but it has a charming cast, a competent script and deft direction. Patrick Stewart, who doesn’t seem to age unless it’s through make-up, is on hand as the older version of Merlin. He pops up every once in a while to render some sage advice. It is ironic that he was also in probably the last good King Arthur movie, Excalibur, as Uriens. Freshman actor Louis Ashbourne Serkis (son of Andy Serkis) delivers a heartfelt performance as the boy who does not want to be king eventually embraces his Once and Future King mantle. Dean Chaumoo, another new actor, provides a believable portrayal as Alex’s best mate. Rebecca Fergusen, who has been appearing quite a bit in movies such as Mission: Impossible – Fallout and The Greatest Showman makes for a very dark and threatening Morgana.
The Kid Who Would be King is definitely entertaining and if you have young ones, I think they will enjoy it. If you are young at heart, you can sit back and have a good time too.