The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)

PG Running Time: 120 mins



  • Fans of King Arthur stories will find plenty to like about this spirited take on the classic story.

  • Joe Cornish has been gone too long, and his mix of comedy, adventure, and Spielbergian fantasy is a nice way to start the year for family films.

  • Has the opportunity to introduce the King Arthur story to a whole new audience.


  • Some kids are not going to care all that much about the King Arthur story, and The Kid Who Would Be King doesn’t really bridge that divide too much.

  • There’s a matter-of-fact nature to this which might make it boring to some viewers.

  • It’s lack of an edge may work against it. Largely a movie you might sit, get, and forget.


I’m not sure why it took writer/director Joe Cornish eight years to follow up his terrific, science-fiction horror debut Attack the Block, but his return as writer and director of The Kid Who Would Be King is a charming, delightful, and amusing reinterpretation of the tale of King Arthur. Though it could use another run through the editing bay for some more polish and tightening, Cornish finds a nice cast of young actors to carry out his modern-day fantasy.

Our story is largely focused on Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of acclaimed actor Andy Serkis), a 12-year-old, raised by a single mother (Denise Gough) and largely left to his own devices. Reeling from a family tragedy, Alex and his mom are still trying to pick up the pieces, which leaves Alex’s vulnerability to be tested by his Dungate Academy private school classmates, and bullies, Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris).

His best friend, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), is the loyal right-hand-buddy, also undergoing harassment. Their lives change forever when, one evening away from the prestigious private school, Alex discovers a random sword sticking out of a slab of concrete at a construction site. He thinks it’s a prank, but, as any curious kid is wont to do, he pulls the sword magically out of the stone and a new royal adventure awaits.

He soon connects with an older new student, eventually revealed as Merlin (Angus Imrie as a teenager), enrolled incognito at Dungate to try and guide Alex on his noble and fateful quest. Lurking in the underworld is Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), a sorceress who has been biding her time for centuries, waiting to have the chance to resurrect and rule over England once again.

Cornish balances a nice blend of humor and adventure, with nods and winks to previous iterations of the King Arthur story. He also infuses three different incarnations of Merlin throughout the film, with Imrie portraying the hyperkinetic teenage boy with a penchant for bizarre clapping and snapping techniques when delivering his spells, an owl who flies around and observes the happenings, and Patrick Stewart, who pops up intermittently as a goofy, wild-haired older version of the wizard.

A political overture here and there will fly over the heads of younger viewers and likely be noticeable for the grown-ups paying attention in the room. (Hint: Cornish is not the biggest fan of both Britain and the United States’ current leadership.).

The visual effects are well done; a mix of practical work and CGI that maximizes the most it can on what I imagine to be a relatively modest budget. The kids are largely non-descript, but Cornish offers them enough personality to let them stand apart, although there are times when their matter-of-fact performances tend to blend together.

While some will take away a desire to learn more about King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and other Arthurian anecdotes, I imagine most who watch this will enjoy it for what it is, and then carry on with their day. The Kid Who Would Be King is a fun, light-hearted escape, calling to mind a tone reminiscent of Spielberg in the 1980s.

Coupled with some endearing moments from its youthful cast, this is a nice, harmless way to spend a couple of hours in a theater. No more and no less.


Starring: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Angus Imrie, Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris, Denise Gough, Dean Chaumoo, Patrick Stewart, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Noma Dumezweni.

Director: Joe Cornish
Written by: Joe Cornish
Release Date: January 25, 2019
20th Century Fox