The Kid – British Film at its Most Ruthless
Another British gem from the Edinburgh Film Festival is set to go on general release this week. Nick Moran’s The Kid, an adaptation of Kevin Lewis’ bestselling biography, is a harrowing ‘rags to riches’ story that details the abusive and violent years of Lewis’ childhood and adolescence.
This gripping tale vividly portrays the young life of Kevin Lewis as he tries time and again to escape his abusive past and tirelessly believes in his own ability to ‘make it’. The story details his life: growing up on a council estate with abusive parents; being failed by the social work system and sent back to his family after a stint in a care home; bullied at school and finally, after being hospitalised by his mother, going into foster care. This stint in foster care is a brief reprieve in the harrowing events of the film until Kevin decides to make it on his own and ends up being manipulated by the powerful of London’s seedy underworld.
The protagonist is convincingly played by three different actors: William Finn Miller, Augustus Prew and Rupert Friend, as young, teenage and grown-up Kevin respectively. Each one brings a level of vulnerability to the character and heartbreakingly portrays a character whose defences are steadily building up in order to shield himself against a terrifying amount of abuse. Rupert Friend’s performance is an excellent character study of the man, and we realise how close his portrayal is when the film cuts to a past interview with the real Kevin Lewis, at the end. The effect that is the most striking in his portrayal is the way in which he imitates Lewis’ voice. The softly spoken voiceover works really well, to almost tragically comic effect, as he cuts in at certain moments in a voice that seems to retain the innocence he so wished for in childhood. This child-like quality comes across in Friend’s performance, and, as he is manipulated by London gangsters for the second half of the film, we often wish that he could be a little less naive. All three of the actors who play Kevin are excellent at engaging the audience emotionally. The tension in the press screening was palpable, and there was a collective sigh of relief at the end as we all realised that Kevin could no longer torture us with whatever unfortunate event may happen to him next.
Supporting the young cast are some strong British actors including Bernard Hill and Ioan Gruffudd. These two serve as some relief from the abuse piled on Kevin, as they play a care worker and a teacher, respectively; characters who attempt to help Kevin at different stages in his young life, tirelessly attempting to reach out to a boy who has become emotionally remote. Their goodness is symptomatic, however, of a film that seems to polarise good and bad in people.
Apart from Kevin and, to an extent, his sometime girlfriend, played by Jodie Whittaker, there is a sense that the characters in this film are all either good or bad. There is very little in between, either they are saviours, attempting to save Kevin, or devils, seeking to abuse and exploit him. For the most part such a basic moral split does work in a film where the attention is so closely focused on the central character and his emotional journey; however it does add an element of the fairy tale into what is supposed to be a real life story.
In no character is this effect so emphasised as in Gloria, played quite terrifyingly by Natascha McElhone as she ruthlessly portrays Kevin’s chain smoking, violent and abusive mother. Her violence and brutality is a bit of a caricature and this effect is clearly intended, emphasised as it is, by the camera-work. Clearly we are seeing this woman not through the eyes of the world, a discerning and dispassionate audience, but through Kevin’s eyes: as a terrifying monster to be feared and avoided. Such a perspective though, offers no two levels to her character; no attempt to explain or excuse what she is until a slight moment when Kevin ponders the fact that she and his father may simply be products of their own upbringing. This is of course undermined by the very fact that Kevin himself has just escaped the shackles of his own abusive past however, and serves to condemn them even further.
Despite a sometimes basic morality, this film is in fact a shockingly memorable portrayal of one boys struggle against tremendous odds, as he battles to ward off demons from within and without, and achieve something for himself. This is British film at its most gritty and ruthless, refusing to gloss over unwelcome truths.