Narrative theory dictates that there exist only seven basic plots, which is why the stories we tell so frequently adhere to a popular theme. In recent years there has been a relentless and rather numbing demand for books and films which embody the rebirth archetype, demonstrating the triumph of the underdog and the transformative power of blah blah blah… It all gets rather tired, but the entire genre has just been given an extraordinary shot in the arm by Nick Moran’s second feature The Kid. Based on a true story and written for the screen by the protagonist himself, this is a film which will systematically deconstruct your faith in humanity and then rebuild it from the ground up.
Kevin Lewis (William Finn Miller, Augustus Prew and Friend) never had much of a chance. Born in 1970 on a dead end Croydon estate, we follow Kevin from the age of 6 as he is relentlessly abused by his sadistic mother (McElhone) and ignored by his alcoholic father (Con O’Neill). Beaten, starved and locked in a bare room with no lights, Kevin is practically feral and scrawls compulsively on his filthy bedroom wall, bereft of any other way of communicating. Rescued by social services and then returned to his mother’s clutches, Kevin is passed from pillar to post throughout his childhood and adolescence, never quite losing the monstrous violent streak which is his only inheritance.
Despite the efforts of a sympathetic teacher (Gruffudd) and his saintly foster father (a gorgeous performance from James Fox), Kevin reaches man’s estate with no qualifications and no prospects. By now an earnest and well-meaning twenty-something whose entrepreneurial spirit is hampered by utter emotional illiteracy, Kevin simply tries to make something – anything – of himself. But as debts mount up and local spivs take him for a ride, it looks as if his parents’ fate may be his own and crisp-shirt-wearing, Mahler-listening Kevin could end up rotting in an 80s slum.
Compelling, disturbing and uplifting
Everything about The Kid is perfectly crafted. I must confess to not having read the original book, but Kevin Lewis’ adaptation of his own work is extraordinarily polished for a first-time screenwriter and the script is utterly captivating, even if its saturation with profanity is likely to shock the unprepared viewer. The greatest challenge with a very aggressive film, however, is always making it believable – a certain amount of violence comes easily to most of us, but for Natascha McElhone to transform herself into the slavering monster she plays takes an extraordinary skill. The casual disgust with which she flings a poker into the sink, only for blood to drift from it into the water, is still making me shiver twenty-four hours after leaving the cinema. Rupert Friend is neurotic and awkward, his whole persona the physical equivalent of a nervous stutter, and the actors who portray Kevin as a boy and teenager are equally competent.
This is Nick Moran’s first significant film, but you’d never know it. The physical appearance of the picture (shot on 16mm film for a slight graininess) evokes the tawdry glamour of the Thatcherite aspirational working class as convincingly as it does the grime of Kevin’s upbringing, and taps into evocative cultural memories whether or not the viewer is old enough to remember the era depicted on screen. The score, which is largely composed of the classical music Kevin listens to on his Walkman, is cleverly used as juxtaposition to some of the most visually difficult scenes, and whilst the violent set-pieces pull no punches they don’t come across as gratuitous. Whether or not the trend of fetishising rags-to-riches stories is to your taste, The Kid is absolutely required viewing. For everyone.