THE KING'S DAUGHTER
2022, PG, 94 mins.
Pierce Brosnan as King Louis XIV / Kaya Scodelario as Marie-Josephe D'Alember / Benjamin Walker as Yves De La Croix / Rachel Griffiths as Abbess / Julie Andrews as Narrator / Fan Bingbing as Mermaid / William Hurt as Pere La Chaise / Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Jean-Michel Lintillac / Paul Ireland as Benoit / Pablo Schreiber as Dr. LabartheDirected by Sean McNamara / Written by Ronald Bass, Barry Berman, Laura Harrington and James Schamus, based on the novel by Vonda N. McIntyre
films have their releases delayed it's a rather large warning sign for
their quality and a relative box office death sentence.
When films like
THE KING'S DAUGHTER are shot eight years ago (yes...eight) and have
their original theatrical rollout delayed for seven years (yes...seven)
then it's safe to say that said film is dead and buried six feet under
before any audience has even laid eyes on it.
to this film? It was shot
with a reasonably large $40-plus million dollar budget in Versailles way, way
back in the Spring of 2014 with a planned release to occur the following
year. Then the production
delayed that release for several months to reportedly work on and finish
the VFX required for the final product.
Paramount - without much fanfare or warning - abruptly cancelled
the film's release indefinitely until it was acquired by Gravitas
Ventures, which finally decided to dump this picture on audiences this
past January, only to die an incredibly quick box office death.
In an era when COVID has decimated its way through multiple
Hollywood productions and spelt doom for their releases, the plight of THE
KING'S DAUGHTER began far before our current pandemic, so the producers
can't use it as an excuse for its long-term shelving and extremely long
Nope. There's a more simple answer:
penetrate deeply beyond this film's aggressively mediocre facade I believe
that kernels of something potentially decent are here as a piece of family
friendly historical fantasy. I
can see how the story contained within - based on Vonda N. McIntyre's 1997
novel MOON AND THE SUN - would appeal to certain audiences:
It has historical intrigue blended with fantasy, royal drama
morphed with supernatural mermaid creatures, and, yes, a plucky and
determined female protagonist that young viewers could easily latch on to.
The book to screen adaptation had such heavy hitters as Jim Henson
Pictures and star Natalie Portman interested at one point.
Obviously, they balked and the resulting kid-friendly film is noble
minded in its ideas and themes, yes, but a disastrous and muddled mess in
most other regards. That, and
it contains some extremely appealing stars pathetically doing what they
can with the lackluster material given to them.
Rather sadly, industry vet Pierce Brosnan has to act his way
through a preposterously phony wig for an hour and a half and - more
tragically - this film serves as the great William Hurt's last big screen
appearance. That last one
stings a lot.
DAUGHTER aims for a regal tone and vibe by having Julie Andrews narrate
the story (mercifully...and perhaps wisely...she doesn't physically appear
in the production). This once
upon a time tale concerns Brosnan's King Louis XIV (never mind that
the actor is Irish and is playing a French role and never tries to play it
French), who has survived a recent assassination attempt and finds that he
can trust just about no one outside, of course, Hurt's man of God, Pere.
Seeking a way to cheat death and achieve immortality, the King is
told by his head doctor (Pablo Schreiber) that he can achieve just that by
kidnapping a mermaid out of the sea and removing her magical life force
(The Force was taken) out of her body, but (here's the catch) only during
the upcoming solar eclipse. The King gives the plan the thumbs up, and a mermaid is
indeed captured, but nabbing one from the lost city of Atlantis and
securing it is no easy task whatsoever.
this is the story of Marie-Josephe (a stunning, but wasted Kaya Scodelario),
who is actually the - cue the title - King's daughter, but has no
idea that her true biological papa is the leader of France.
When the mermaid and Marie-Josephe simultaneously arrive in
Versailles she rather predictably grows to have a strong emotional bond to
the trapped and doomed creature, and all while she's tasked to become
Louis' new composer (she's a master cellist...I guess...because...why
not?). Complicating matters
for her is the hunky fisherman
Yves De La Croix (Benjamin
Walker), who has become quite fond of the easy on the eyes Marie-Josephe
(feelings that she reciprocates). Within
no time, the new lovers team up to secure the mythological being's freedom
and well being before the King can complete his twisted deed.
If there's one thing that the film never directly explains well is
how Marie-Josephe has this instant telepathic bond with the mermaid.
You'd think that a production that was shelved for as many years as it was
had the time for added reshoots and re-edits to crack this issue.
Of the very few
(emphasis on very few) good things in THE KING'S DAUGHTER I will
concede that I appreciated the makers' decision to shoot as much as they
could on practical sets, actual region specific locations, and so forth.
Director Sean McNamara populates his film with reasonably strong
eye candy when it comes to production design and opulent costumes (which,
I would hazard a guess, is where most of the film's budget ended up).
There's an undercurrent of location verisimilitude when it comes to
THE KING'S DAUGHTER, and the film certainly sells the scale, scope and
power of the King's empire. Considering
that so many films these days will use a digital backlot process and a lot
of iffy computer effects to sell the illusion of being someplace foreign,
I can at least admire the tangible vistas on display here.
Having said that, though, it's hysterically obvious that the budget
here did not go to VFX at all, more specifically into crafting a realistic
looking mermaid for the film (incidentally, the character is credited to
Fan Bingbang, despite there being almost nothing of her essence in this
ungodly and frankly creepy CG creation).
When you watch films like THE KING'S DAUGHTER and see them nail
practical movie trickery well and then fail horrendously at augmented VFX
it's simply frustrating. That,
and you have to wonder why they just didn't go the practical route of
having a real actress in prosthetics. That has worked well before.
Since I never once believed in the mermaid as a flesh and blood
(well...half anyway) character then I just immediately checked out of the
Oh, as for the
other good thing in THE KING'S DAUGHTER?
I really like Kaya Scodelario as a fetching screen presence, and
she has such natural beauty, poise and charm that you kind of want to just
sit back, scratch your head, and wonder why her talent is being so
hopelessly wasted here. Both
her and co-star Brosnan look good in their regal wardrobes and try to
impart some humanity into the mostly stillborn script and dialogue
exchanges, but you can just tell that this whole production is beneath
them as performers. You would
also think that Scodelario and her then real-life lover in Walker would
have finer chemistry here, but they surprisingly fail to generate any heat
as an on-screen couple (granted, there's only so much heat you can have in
a PG rated mermaid fantasy). Actually,
correction: The actors became an item after the film wrapped...but...does
it matter? Their romantic
subplot hits so many perfunctory beats that it becomes a chore just to
remind ourselves that this pair deserves our rooting interest.
There's also a would-be compelling thematic component to THE KING'S DAUGHTER in terms of the crown pleading to be following scientific principles that justify their killing of a mermaid to extend the life of the monarch while the lowly heroes and commoners think that none of God's creatures should be killed for such nefarious means. I sound like a broken record repeating this, but THE KING'S DAUGHTER really could have been special as far as historical fantasies go, and one that appeals to all age groups. This film has seemingly everything: romance, palace intrigue, religious implications, historical drama, and aquatic monsters and high sea adventure. If you described THE KING'S DAUGHTER in that way to me (and I was going into the film cold) I'd be like "SOLD!" After leaving THE KING'S DAUGHTER I was begging for a refund. Magical fairy tale fantasies should not be as bereft of actual magic and be as vanilla-bland generic as this one.
Maybe Paramount had the right idea all along by hiding this film from the general public seven years ago.