The Kid Who Would Be King is a 2019 film that takes the classic tale of King Arthur, and reinvents it, spinning the tale as though the role Arthur once played in history can be passed down like a mantle. And passed down it is, to a boy in modern-day England.
The film was directed and written by Joe Cornish, and though it has the feel of a film adaptation of a middle-grade novel (like those of Rick Riordan), it was not based on a book. This is pure, original film content, and it’s notable for that reason alone. But I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit. Here is our review for The Kid Who Would Be King.
Since this is a film designed for younger viewers, the plot is necessarily simple. But I would argue that it is, perhaps, too simple. The threat for most of the film are disembodied skeletal warriors that are rather easy to defeat, and only provide a sense of danger from their rather brilliant appearance. Still, even for a child, the repetition of this threat can grow tedious at times.
That being said, the concepts behind the plot are well written, if simple. They follow the basic structure one would expect from the genre, and generally have a clear flow. At no point did I feel bored or that the plot was giving me too much, especially for a film for younger viewers.
The character development was one of the weaker points of the film, in my opinion. Few characters grow from one part of the story to the other, with the possible exception of Lance (the modern film version of Lancelot) who goes from being an annoying bully to a slightly less-annoying knight of the round table.
Where this flaw clearly shows up is in the character of Kaye, who is one of the characters with the most potential, none of which is realized in the film. She starts out as a rather bland character, and she has almost no time to shine. Missed opportunity.
Design and Setting
I will say, the design is one of this film’s shining characteristics. It’s surprisingly good. The cave where Morgan Le Fay remains trapped is perhaps one of my favorite set pieces I’ve seen in a fantasy film in a very long time, and her minions are visually terrifying (if not in other ways).
I also love the opportunity this film took to show our young viewers around some of the more well-known Arthurian sites in England, like Tintagel and Glastonbury. However, I would have liked to have seen more. The ending of the film, for example, could have been much more interesting had the school had some connection to an Arthurian site, or was located elsewhere entirely.
Regardless, the design and setting did a perfect job of mixing the modern world with the ancient one.
Acting was a mixed bag for me. Yes, I know these are child actors, but some of their performance just felt very wooden. Though I loved the sort of lovable yet humble portrayal of Alex by Louis Serkis, and Bedders by Dean Chaumoo, there were several moments when I rolled my eyes at the cheesiness and dead-pan execution of their lines.
Additionally, I thought the portrayals of Lance by Tom Taylor, and Kaye by Rhianna Dorris were equally dead-pan, and as I mentioned above, Kaye was highly underutilized in the film.
Now I will say that the portrayal of young Merlin by Angus Imrie was delightful, and he was easily one of the highlights of the film. Patrick Stewart’s portrayal of an older Merlin was also wonderful, though there wasn’t really a good story reason for having the character be young in some scenes and older in others. As much as I loved Patrick Stewart, I thought he was largely unnecessary in the film, apart from his ability to bring an introspection and a gravitas to the plot like few people could.
This was the final area that lacked in my opinion. Much of the dialogue is overwhelmingly simple and lacking in realism. As I mentioned above, much of the acting felt wooden, and that is largely in part because of the dialogue. There were places where I could easily predict the plot based on the heavy-handed foreshadowing forced into the lines. Many of the characters come off as stereotypical, especially Lance as the trophy school bully.
The Arthurian Connection
Now before you Arthurian experts see this film, or raise your fists in protest at its portrayal of Arthurian lore, let me remind you of one thing: this film is not for you.
The Arthurian connection in the film is weak at best. Sure, it borrows some elements, such as Excalibur (once again mistaken as also being the Sword in the Stone), Arthur as a historical figure, Morgan Le Fay, the names of our main characters, and certain locations mentioned above. Apart from that, there is little semblance to any of the original works in the Arthurian tradition.
Now that being said, it doesn’t necessarily need all those connections. This is a work of fiction set in the modern day, and targeted at younger viewers. It doesn’t need to have a huge basis in lore, and possessing a ton of Easter eggs. It is what it is, and it does what it’s meant to do very well. Kids are likely to thoroughly enjoy this film.
And who knows, it may be that there are several young children out there right now who will watch this film, and that will be the beginning of their fascination with the Arthurian Legends, leading them to more research of the original myths. So I recommend not to judge this film by its adherence (or lack thereof) to the original myths.
Overall, I thought this film was a lot of silly fun, and that’s all it was intended to be. Young viewers will likely adore this film, and I recommend it for that reason. But if you’re a scholar of King Arthur, you will likely be disappointed. I give it a 7/10.
Jason is the editor-in-chief of ArthurLegends.com and the primary author of the Arthurian Shared Universe. He has a deep love of British history and mythology, especially relating to Celtic and Arthurian traditions (obviously). He spends most of his days in made-up worlds.