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The Kid Who Would Be King

Published Date: 01/02/2019

A group of kids embark on an epic quest to thwart a medieval menace.

Old school magic meets the modern world in the epic adventure The Kid Who Would Be King. Alex thinks he's just another kid, until he stumbles upon the mythical Sword in the Stone, Excalibur. Now, he must unite his friends and enemies into a band of knights and, together with the legendary wizard Merlin, take on the wicked enchantress Morgana. With the future at stake, Alex must become the great leader he never dreamed he could be.

The seed for The Kid Who Would Be King has been growing in the mind of writer-director Joe Cornish (Attack the Block (2011)) and screenwriter on The Adventures of Tintin (2011) and Ant-Man (2015) ) since he was a child, beginning in 1982 when he saw John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981) and Steven Spielberg’s E.T. (1982). Both films had a big impact on the young Cornish, inspiring the beginnings of his idea for a film about an ordinary boy who discovers The Sword in the Stone.

Cornish recalls, “All through my teenage years I drew a little cartoon on my school books of the sword Excalibur coming out of a bathtub – the juxtaposition of the domestic and the modern with the ancient myth. Then I put the idea aside, but it’s slowly been gestating ever since.”

Researching for the script, Cornish and producer Nira Park visited schools and asked the pupils how familiar they were with King Arthur and the legend of Excalibur. They found that the children were familiar with the image and idea of Excalibur – that whoever was able to pull the sword from the stone became king – but they were confused about how that fitted in with today’s British royal family. Cornish adds “they knew of the sword but not its repercussions, and I thought that was a cool and interesting place to build from.”

Cornish continues, "The idea behind this movie is that myths and legends like the story of King Arthur don’t have a huge amount of basis in historical fact. They’re written and rewritten to suit the needs of the time, and in fact, it’s important that different generations rewrite legends anew for themselves. So when I wrote this script, that was at the forefront of my mind, that I could take what I wanted from existing mythology and use it in the way that I wanted – because that’s what Mallory did, that’s what French poets did, that’s what everybody who followed has done with the Arthurian legend – it’s there for all of us to interpret in our own way."

The heart of the film is based on the chivalric code that the wizard Merlin teaches young Arthur in the legend. This is the set of laws that King Arthur’s knights abided by, which dictated earnest moral behaviour – honouring the people you love, persevering, refraining from offence and telling the truth. In the film, Cornish takes that moral code and applies it to modern kids, to see what its value is in today’s world.

He explains, “The kids in this movie go on a journey from being a little bit rough-and-tumble, rude and angry with each other, to a place where they understand the value of that basic moral code and apply it to their modern world. I hope that as well as being an epic action adventure movie full of fun, comedy, and emotion, that there’s also a message for kids that explains the value of these ancient ideals, that they might have some relevance to the way we live today.”

Cornish’s vision for the magic in the film was very clear — he wanted it to feel practical, physical and real-world — as though kids could actually perform it in their own homes. Says the writer-director, “The magic in The Kid Who Would Be King isn’t the sort of sparkly, spangly, escapist magic that we’re used to seeing in fantasy films. Instead of romanticised ancient spell books and magic wands, our magic is much more physical and practical. When something transforms in our movie you can really feel it. When our Merlin performs magic, it’s by intricate combinations of hand movements that create a physical impact on the characters and environment nearby.”

Finding the right young actor to handle playing Alex was a difficult job. Cornish recalls, “For the role of Alex, we saw loads and loads of kids, and we came down to about two or three. But then Louis Ashbourne Serkis entered the audition process, and he just blew everybody away, because he was so detailed, so unmannered, so natural in the way he performed.”

He continues: "He’s very cool, Louis. He doesn’t flaunt his talent, but when you call action, something magical happens. Even at the first audition, he looked calm and detached, but then as soon as the camera rolled, it just started happening."

Says Ashbourne Serkis about his character, “Alex lives with his mum and she can’t really spend that much time with him because she has to work. He’s quite disillusioned because his dad’s left them, and he and his one friend Bedders get bullied at school. He thinks there’s no hope, and life’s not going to get any better - he’s just another nobody kid. But then obviously when he stumbles across the sword everything changes.”

We are very excited to join Alex and his gang in their adventures.

The Kid Who Would Be King is at Showcase from February 15.