Kevin Lewis’ misery memoirs receive a heartfelt if overwrought screen transfer from British actor-turned-helmer Nick Moran in “The Kid.” Unflinchingly depicted scenes of childhood abuse by an alcoholic father and mentally ill mother set the tone for an eventful drama that takes in bare-knuckle underground street fighting, attempted suicide and the love of a good woman. Acquisitions executives won’t be tussling in the playground over this particular toy, but home prospects via local distrib Revolver are more promising, especially given the books’ popularity in the U.K.
Following 2008’s “Telstar,” which recounted music pioneer Joe Meek’s downward spiral into bitter jealousy and self-destruction, Moran further explores his interest in true tales of desperation. Adapted by crime writer Lewis from his autobiographical books “The Kid” and “The Kid Moves On” (with additional writing by helmer Moran), the film opens in 1993, as bruised and bloody Kevin (Rupert Friend) attempts to end his life on a grubby mattress in an abandoned, garbage-strewn house, later revealed to be his childhood home.
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Pic then flashes back to 1980, as young Kevin (William Finn Miller) is treated by his abusive mother, Gloria (Natascha McElhone), as a feral beast, locked up in the bedroom where the walls serve as canvas for a creative outpouring of graffiti. Gloria is a woman whose unhappiness is channeled into rage at Kevin, selected from her brood as sacrificial lamb. Unfortunately for him, she has plenty to be unhappy about, including her unemployed, alcoholic spouse (Con O’Neill, “Telstar”). McElhone, unrecognizable with unflattering hair, teeth and spectacles, gives the one-note part more commitment than it merits.
Periodic discoveries of abuse see the boy shuttled among foster parents, a kindly care home (cue upbeat montage set to era-appropriate tune “I Could Be Happy” by ’80s pop combo Altered Images) and his own family, who intermittently feign repentance. The film hits its stride in a well-judged middle section in which a teenage-misfit Kevin (Augustus Prew) receives encouragement from a kindly teacher (Ioan Gruffudd, energizing a stock character). In his final foster home, a much-changed Kevin is learning to box and dreaming of wealth in the booming London stock market.
The material’s shapeless biographical form becomes most evident after Kevin’s escape from his family, satisfying the audience’s original rooting interest. Pic loses focus as the young man (now played by Friend again) struggles to maintain mortgage payments on an ill-advised house purchase, is exploited by small-time gangster backers over a bar venture, and loses his girlfriend (Jodie Whittaker, “Venus”) over his inability to express his feelings. Evidently, Kevin has traded one set of abusers for another.
Friend, convincing as the royal consort in “The Young Victoria,” is not so well cast as the battle-hardened underclass victim of “The Kid.” His reedy voice is particularly exposed in the lengthy voiceover narration, although an end-credits coda featuring the real Lewis reveals the source of this creative choice. Nevertheless, the impersonation is ill advised.
Tech credits reveal budgetary constraints. Pop soundtrack choices are often overly literal.