THE KID (15): On General Release Friday 17th September
The Kid is based on the true story of Kevin Lewis, who escaped a life of horrific child abuse in the 70s and 80s only to work as a bar manager and bare-knuckled boxer for low-level gangster before finally becoming a best-selling novelist.
It opens with savage beatings at the hands of his mother (an almost unrecognisable Natascha McEllhone) before being taken into care by social services. After numerous attempts to re-home Kevin end in disaster (Kevin’s poor upbringing leads him react violently at the least provocation), he’s eventually taken to a children’s home. Things are looking up under the care of “Uncle David” (Bernard Hill) and the support of a kind school teacher (Ioan Grufford) until a well-meaning but ill-informed social worker insists that Kevin return home to his family.
Here the beatings continue until his injuries are so severe that Kevin’s re-homed again, this time with the kind Alan and Margaret (James Fox and Shirley Anne Field). Kevin looks like he’s managed to get his life on track, planning to use money that Alan has promised him to start his own business. But when Alan dies and Margaret emigrates he buys the house only to be saddled with crippling mortgage payments and is then forced to work as a bare-knuckled boxer for local gangster Terry (David O’Hara).
The Kid features an excellent cast. All three actors playing Kevin are excellent, whether it be William Finn Miller as the young Kevin, Augustus Prew as Kevin’s awkward teenage self (who looks almost the spit and image of a young Paul Dano) or Rupert Friend who excels as the mild mannered adult that he’s become – the affected high-pitched voice seems out of place until you see real-life footage at the end whereupon you realise he’s got it dead on.
Natascha McElhone is simply terrifying as his mother, a vicious, bespectacled demon with awful teeth: paint her green and give her a hat and she could be the Wicked Witch of the West. She’s ably supported by Con O’Neil as his shambling alcoholic father. It’s these early scenes which are the most gut wrenching: Kevin’s shown so little compassion and savagely punished for the smallest of offences that it’s impossible not to feel for him.
Unfortunately, It’s let down by unconvincing fight scenes which look about as brutal as a school bundle and further marred by occasional trite voiceovers which are distracting, unintentionally hilarious and only serve to undermine the constructed tensions of Nick Moran’s direction. There’s also a worried lurch towards clichéd over-sentimentality: a particular lowlight is the clip of the real Kevin Lewis on This Morning where his banal advice amounts to “Search for the hero inside yourself”, a sour note on which to end a film which occasionally sparkles but never shines.