Gollum’s kid can act! That would be Andy Serkis’s little boy Louis Ashbourne Serkis, a brilliant child actor—drama, comedy, he does it all, from a deeply truthful place. He carries the whole movie on his young shoulders like a pro. He’s the first reason you should take your kids to see the kid-excellent “The Kid Who Would Be King.”
The second reason is that this is an extension of the Arthurian Legend, with lots of moral underpinnings having to do with chivalry. Thirdly, it’s sort of like “A Dog’s Purpose,” because it’s got lots in it about reincarnation.
Serkis’s character Alex is King Arthur reincarnated. Sir Lancelot reincarnates as a school bully (Tom Taylor); Sir Kaye as a female, African-British bully’s sidekick (Rhianna Dorris); Sir Bedevere as a chubby, nice Indian-British boy (Dean Chaumoo) of tremendous sincerity (and therefore bully-able); and Arthur’s court magician, Merlin, incarnates variously as an owl, Patrick Stewart, and a tall, flamboyant boy, slightly reminiscent, look-wise, of Alan Ruck in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (Angus Imrie). He’s the most bully-able of all.
The Sword in the Stone
After Arthur, er, Alex, and Sir Bedevere, er “Bedders,” get chased by school bullies into a construction site on the way home from school, Alex finds a medieval broadsword sticking out of a stone, er, hunk of rebar concrete. He, of course, pulls the sword from the rebar.
Being a King Arthur fan—as all young boys whose moms give them King Arthur books are—Alex is pretty sure this must be the one and only Excalibur. So who must he himself be?
Can you imagine if you wound up being part of your favorite childhood fantasy story? We’d all like to be Gandalf, Arthur, or, as of this writing (in Think Coffee shop near Union Square), like the young man seated next to me reading “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”—Dumbledore. Or maybe Snape, judging by the grease factor of his hair.
Where was I? Oh yes—Excalibur. It’s back, as itself. Unrusted. The Lady of the Lake is back too, making her usual coy appearance: only showing an arm. A bit scaly here; definitely a mermaid’s arm. Hmm. Yeah, maybe she was a mermaid.
Anyway, Merlin, going by the very, very cleverly disguised name of “Mertin,” shows up at Alex’s school to inform him that Morgana le Fay (Rebecca Ferguson), who historically is King Arthur’s evil half-sister, is getting ready to make a comeback and steal Excalibur, which she always felt entitled to. She’s been moldering in an earthly dungeon of tree roots and stalagmites for centuries, and she’s not happy.
During the rapidly approaching total eclipse of the sun, she will rise again with an army of charred, smoldering, dark minions and rotten demons, riding skeletal horses. Is this perhaps too scary for the littlest littles? I personally think so, but most children have unfortunately seen way worse by now.
Chivalry’s a good word—a good concept. I feel about chivalry much the same as Clint Eastwood’s character in “In the Line of Fire” does, when he says to his young Secret Service protégé: “Cockamamie. That’s a word your generation hasn’t embraced yet. Maybe you oughta use it once in a while, just to keep it alive.”
You don’t hear much about chivalry these days; you hear about “toxic masculinity.” But “The Kid Who Would Be King” is rife with chivalry usages. Because King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table were all about chivalry. And so, it would appear, is director Joe Cornish.
Chivalry went way past laying your suit of armor across a mud puddle for a lady to step across. Oh yes! The code of chivalry was a law of conduct for knights, a moral system going beyond the rules of combat and horsemanship to embracing bravery, courtesy, justice, mercy, generosity, faith, hope, nobility, honor, and gallantry toward women. That’s good stuff. That’s stuff your kids should see, and embrace, and use once in a while, just to keep it alive.
One of the chivalric themes that recurs is King Arthur’s supposed ability to makes friends out of enemies. Because—as outlined in a comic book-like animated intro—Arthur’s realm was pretty rowdy and unruly. Different clans, tribes, in squalor, squabbling in, as Monty Python has so unforgettably (and often) portrayed—miles and acres and yards of mud. Arthur united the Brits.
And so the first half of “The Kid Who Would Be King” is about nerds Alex and Bedders trying to win over the cool kids and bullies. Alex learns that owning Excalibur won’t get the whole trick of being an effective leader done by itself. He needs to comport himself with great honesty and integrity. It is the purity of heart in all things that elevates human existence.
It’s tempting to say that Rebecca Ferguson is completely underused as Morgana, but it’s just the size of this particular role, as written, in this particular movie. She’s such a captivating actress you just want to see her do more of whatever she’s doing.
Dean Chaumoo is a real find, in what would be the Vern Tessio role, played by Jerry O’Connell in the 1986 “Stand By Me,” and like Jerry O’Connell, Chaumoo will probably, in time, grow from a chubby child into a handsome leading man.
Angus Imrie as young Merlin cries out for a little bullying, so annoying is he early on. But he grows on you, although parents may not think happy thoughts about him in the future, what with their kids driving them completely batty imitating his spell-casting gesticulations: an amalgamation of clapping, snapping, using one hand as a keypad that the other texts on, and aircraft-carrier-landing-signal-officer arm waving—all executed with great relish.
But again, this film belongs to young Serkis. It’s a beautiful start to a long and storied career. Take your kids and let him teach them about chivalry, as the world as we know it rapidly returns to the dark ages.
‘The Kid Who Would Be King’
Director: Joe Cornish
Starring: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Patrick Stewart, Rebecca Ferguson, Angus Imrie, Rhianna Dorris
Running Time: 2 hours
Release Date: Jan. 25
Rated 3.5 stars out of 5