A film review by Craig J. Koban May 3, 2022

THE KING'S DAUGHTER j

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. Labarthe

Directed by Sean McNamara  /  Written by Ronald Bass, Barry Berman, Laura Harrington and James Schamus, based on the novel by Vonda N. McIntyre

Usually when 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. 

What happened 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 winded delay.  

Nope.  There's a more simple answer:  

THE KING'S DAUGHTER sucks.   

When you 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. 

THE KING'S 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. 

 

 

Concurrent to 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 story. 

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.  

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