sat 29/02/2020

The Kid | reviews, news & interviews

The Kid

The Kid

Passionate biopic by Nick Moran about an abused child will make you angry

The Kid: Ioan Gruffudd as a concerned teacher who helps abused child Kevin Lewis (Rupert Friend)

What a difference the Atlantic makes. An abused, underprivileged boy tries to escape his neglectful mother and through the kindness of an unrelated adult discovers he has a rare talent that - a few ups and downs notwithstanding - eventually brings him a happy and fulfilling life. I could be describing The Blind Side, which deservedly delivered a best acting Oscar for Sandra Bullock, or even Precious, about an abused girl.

In fact it’s Brit flick The Kid, the second film by Nick Moran, who came to fame as a cockney geezer in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels but is now a writer, producer and director who is quietly building a decent film-making CV after making his directorial debut in 2008 with Telstar. The comparison with The Blind Side is not invidious as Hollywood would have treated this adaptation of Kevin Lewis’s shocking memoir of his appalling 1980s childhood rather differently, with all the high and low notes being underscored with strings to bring us to a full-blown orchestral redemptive climax. Moran equally eschews subtlety, though, but in The Kid he uses an evocative pop soundtrack as he delivers an in-yer-face depiction of the violence, abuse and neglect suffered by a vulnerable child. The effect, while no less tear-jerking than The Blind Side or Precious, makes us feel like we have gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson when he was in a particularly ratty mood.

Kevin Lewis grew up in the 1980s on an ordinary council estate in south London, but the family stood out; their home was a squalid wreck, he and his siblings were undernourished and unloved, while the adults, like so many god-awful parents whose reproductive organs one wishes would come into contact with a rusty nail, were disappointingly fecund.

Kevin’s mother (Natascha McElhone, unrecognisable for those who know her from her role in Californication) neglects all of her several children, but takes a particular dislike to Kevin, perhaps because she is jealous of the time he spends in the company of his alcoholic father (Con O’Neill). When Kevin isn’t at school or with his dad, his mother keeps him locked in a room with just a bare mattress and a bucket, and he starts to create fantastical stories, written on the wall with a pencil, to keep himself company.

Kevin (superbly played as a child by William Finn Miller) is taken into care, but is later returned to his family as his new social worker believes the birth family to be the best place for children (still, astonishingly, the bedrock of social policy in the UK). But when he is a teenager (now played by Augustus Prew) a concerned teacher (Ioan Gruffudd) alerts social services to the myriad bruises he has and he leaves the family home for good.

Kevin’s foster father (James Fox), however, has some “interesting” friends from his boxing days and one of them introduces the young adult Kevin (Rupert Friend) to the illegal but hugely lucrative sport of bare-knuckle boxing, at which Kevin (given the moniker The Kid) turns out to be a natural. But he also involves him in a dodgy nightclub business that lands Kevin in insurmountable debt, and things spiral out of control. It’s a credit to Moran’s direction that, while those watching who haven’t read the source material are hoping for a feelgood ending, we are never sure if the suicide attempt the film opens with before going back in time is the end of the story. I’m giving nothing away to say that the love of a good woman (fetchingly played by Jodie Whittaker) is Kevin’s possible route out of unhappiness.

The violence - and there’s a lot of it - is shockingly, brutally shown and I was rather disturbed that some of The Kid's bare-knuckle fights are given the full glorifying, theatrical Rocky slow-motion treatment, complete with classical music accompaniment, as if Moran can’t quite distance himself from his old mucker Ritchie’s “I’m from the streets, me” bullshit. And there's nothing subtle about this film (McElhone and O’Neill could give Wayne and Waynetta Slob a run for their money). Its contextualisation in Margaret Thatcher's "There is no such thing as society" selfishness is woefully missing and the journey from Kevin's life-changing moment to the final scenes, where we see him today as a successful novelist and devoted family man, is not fully drawn. And even if it never quite rises above a standard triumph-over-adversity tear-jerker, the film is made with real passion and the performances are routinely superb.

But The Kid will make you very, very angry that ill-equipped families like this still exist in our so-called sophisticated society, that social workers are still desperately overworked and underpaid, and that vulnerable children are still not routinely taken away from their birth parents when the first bruise appears. The NSPCC is supporting the UK release with a campaign to raise awareness of its helpline for adults who are worried about a child; let’s hope that after watching this we’ll be brave enough to pick up the phone

The Kid will make you very, very angry that ill-equipped families like this still exist in our so-called sophisticated society

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