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The Kid Who Would Be King

The legend of King Arthur has been inspiring mediocrity on the big screen for decades. First Knight contrived a love triangle between Sean Connery, Richard Gere and Julia Ormond, then Antoine Fuqua's King Arthur rode roughshod over tradition with Clive Owen and Keira Knightley to deliver spectacular but soulless battle sequences. The less said about Guy Ritchie's recent testosterone-heavy reworking of olde worlde rebellion with Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law and a wooden David Beckham the better. Alas, writer-director Joe Cornish's family-friendly spin on the sword in the stone continues the dispiriting trend, messily combining medieval magic with present-day growing pains for a quartet of underwritten adolescent protagonists. Action set pieces lack variety and eye-popping thrills, repeatedly pitting schoolchildren against flaming-eyed skeletal warriors on horseback who are easily stopped with a swift blow from a sword to decaying bones. Punchlines occasionally fall flat and Rebecca Ferguson is a bland villainess, relying on digitally rendered underlings to do her bidding before her own transformation in a special effects-heavy final showdown that merrily hacks and slashes at plausibility. Twelve-year-old Alexander Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) clings on to memories of his father, who vanished many years ago to "battle his demons". The boy's doting mother (Denise Gough) tries to protect her shy, sensitive boy from spectres of the past but she is powerless to stop Alex falling victim to bullying classmate Lance (Tom Taylor) and his sidekick Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) at Dungate Academy. "This isn't junior school any more. We're nothings now," Alex angrily reminds best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo). Fleeing his tormentors, Alex seeks refuge in a building site where he pulls a sword from a block of stone just like Arthurian legend. This simple act by a pure-hearted hero stirs King Arthur's evil half-sister Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) in her subterranean lair. She employs sorcery to reanimate fallen warriors to slay Alex and steal Excalibur. In response, a young Merlin (Angus Imrie) materialises at Dungate Academy and inspires Alex to undertake an epic quest to Tintagel via Stonehenge before Morgana and her army of the dead can rise in the shadow of the forthcoming solar eclipse. "That's ridiculous, I'm 12!" retorts Alex. "I'm not even old enough to do a paper round." The Boy Who Would Be King maintains a sluggish pace as the cast collectively bears the burden of leaden dialogue. Sir Patrick Stewart invigorates scenes as the older Merlin but he's lumbered with the picture's heavy-handed sermons about fearless, impassioned and inquisitive children carrying a standard for a brighter future. Humour in Cornish's script is skewed towards the youngest members of the audience, who might giggle with glee at comic buttock nudity or thrill to scenes of kids wielding traffic signs as shields in the hard-fought battle against ancient evil. But not a Camelot.