WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Joe Cornish's The Kid Who Would Be King, in theaters now.
Stories about King Arthur and his knight have been shared for centuries, their tone and lessons altered to suit each generation. In The Kid Who Would Be King, director/writer Joe Cornish redefines many of the aspects of the legends for a 21st-century century audience.
Told from the perspective of modern-day English school children who inherit a grim and difficult world, the fantasy adventure recontextualizes aspects of the original tales in new and compelling ways.
The Sword in the Stone
By pulling the fabled sword from the stone, young Arthur proves his divine right to be king. In the original stories, the sword appears in a church courtyard, but in The Kid Who Would Be King, Alex discovers the weapon stuck in a piece of concrete on a construction site.
It still serves much of the same major function as the original story, but a big change comes in the immediate aftermath. In the original legend, withdrawing the sword from the stone is recognized by virtually everyone as a sign that Arthur meant to rule. In The Kid Who Would Be King, Alex only tells his best friend Bedders, who quickly makes jokes about it. The revelation is a slower burn in the film, and remains a secret from most of the world.
Knights of the Round Table
Bedders is actually based on one of the oldest knights of the legends, Bedivere. That character has gone through a number of changes over the centuries, but his role as one of Arthur's most loyal companions remains largely the same. In the film, however, Bedders develops a magical ability to duplicate metallic objects by studying the movements Merlin uses for the spell. While Bedivere doesn't possess that trait in earlier versions of the story, he did at one point possess a magical lance.
Lance is clearly based on Lancelot, possibly the most famous of Arthur's knights. The original stories portrayed the character as a fierce warrior, able to hold his own against almost any enemy. Cornish's film reframes that combative skill as a habitual desire to fight. Transformed into a bully, Lance sees might as right, at least initially. A large part of his arc centers around his short temper and his disputes with Alex.
Kay is the most changed knight, and not only because the character is recast as a girl, named Kaye. One of the first knights to appear in the legends, Kay was eventually depicted as Arthur's step-brother. While he's boisterous and a foil to many of the other knights, he's also typically fiercely loyal to Arthur. In the film, Kaye lacks any real connection to Alex beyond being one of the main two bullies who torments him. However, she's still recognized as one of the most naturally skilled among the four kids, tying her to her legendary counterpart.
Perhaps the second most-important characters in virtually every incarnation of the legend is the wizard Merlin. A powerful sorcerer who began as a combination of different characters, Merlin is one of the most influential archetypes in western fiction. The Kid Who Would Be King even embraces the idea that Merlin actually ages in reverse, but depicts the wizard as a teenager for much of the story.
The film has a lot of fun with Merlin attempting to contend with the modern era. He doesn't have to create a potion to refuel himself, but instead combines some of the items available at a fried chicken restaurant for the same effect. Merlin is confounded by the modern world, but is capable of manipulating it when he needs to.
Morgana & Lady Of The Lake
Like Merlin, Morgana and the Lady of the Lake are meant to be the same characters from the original tales. However, both are more shrouded in mystery, within the context of the film and in history. Morgana and the Lady of the Lake actually slowly switched moral alignments over the years. The original Morgana, sometimes known as Morgan La Fey, was a magical figure who eventually morphed into the one who watches over, and takes care ofm Arthur after he dies and is brought to Avalon. But in later versions of the legend, she was a villain who played a crucial role in Arthur's fall.
The Lady of the Lake initially began as a more morally ambiguous figure, and was even responsible for the entrapment of Merlin. However, as the imagery of her giving Excalibur to Arthur grew more prevalent, she became more heroic. Her connection to Excalibur makes her one of the most iconic elements of the legend, and for the film Cornish tweaks her powers so that she may appear in any body of water.
Written and directed by Joe Cornish, The Kid Who Would Be King stars Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Tom Taylor, Rebecca Ferguson, Patrick Stewart, Rhianna Dorris, Denise Gough, Dean Chaumoo, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett.