Synopsis: King Louis XIV’s quest for immortality leads him to capture and steal a mermaid’s life force, a move that is further complicated by his illegitimate daughter’s discovery of the creature.
Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, Benjamin Walker, Rachel Griffiths, Fan Bingbing, William Hurt, Julie Andrews, Pablo Schreiber, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Crystal Clarke
Director: Sean McNamara
Running Length: 97 minutes
TMMM Score: (4.5/10)
Review: It’s always a question for me of how much I want to research a movie I’m reviewing before I screen in because once you’ve learned a factoid or read about some behind-the-scenes drama, you can’t unknow it. I’ve been good lately at going in sight unseen to most of the films I’m fortunate enough to see, and that was the case with The King’s Daughter – which turned out to be a perfect thing. Only after it ended, and I began to get this write-up pulled together, did I start to find out more about just how old the movie was and the troubled traveling it had to do to be released at all. In some ways, it helps explain a few of the fantasy flick’s more…unique quirks. Still, in others, it just confirms that perhaps, like the well-worn, gilded storybook that opens at the beginning of the film for an Oscar-winner to narrate, this may have sat on the shelf too long and expired before audiences could enjoy it.
Based on The Moon and the Sun, a 1997 novel by Vonda N McIntyre, the film was completed way back in 2014, almost a decade ago now, and has been bounced around release schedules and studios ever since. Featuring a not-unimpressive cast filming on location at the Palace of Versailles and Australia and eventually re-titled The King’s Daughter, director Sean McNamara has managed to direct a whopping twelve movies since wrapping the picture. Heck, it wasn’t until mid-June 2020 that Julie Andrews (Aquaman) was announced as the film’s narrator, hinting it was more than just completion of the special effects that delayed the movie all this time. Once you see the finished film, the end product of much-suspected tinkering and long hours of labor in the editing bay, you’ll agree.
It’s hard to argue with any entertainment that opens with Andrews’s melodic voice narrating the history of the cast of characters populating our story. While it sounds like Andrews may have recorded this during a lunch break from recording her audiobook, her brief presence gives the film the necessary opening energy to help it start on the right foot. Pretty soon, the tale of a vain King (Pierce Brosnan, Cinderella) injured in battle who approves his physician (Pablo Schrieber, The Devil Has a Name) to locate a mermaid from Atlantis and perform an ancient ceremony, involving vivisection of the mythical creature, gets dragged down by overdramatic performances and bewildering thematic tone shifts. Added into the mix is the King’s illegitimate daughter (Kaya Scodelario, Crawl), who has been brought to court but not told who her father is. Wouldn’t you know, she finds a friend in the mermaid and doesn’t like it when the King she’s grown to respect turns out to be less than noble when it comes to her new fishy pal.
Halfway through the movie, I was in deep despair because the acting was all over the map, and some terrific actors were delivering (more like hurling at the screen) performances that make you wonder if the job was taken as broad acting experience more than anything. Even the usually dry William Hurt (Winter’s Tale), as a priest and confidant to the raucous King, comes off as downright boisterous. It was at the middle mark when I realized that The King’s Daughter wasn’t for most audiences at all; it was for younger kids wanting to bridge the gap between animated films and more mature PG-13 content. Arriving in safe PG territory, the movie is ‘just so’ about everything, with nothing too extreme (aside from the overly zealous performances and Brosnan’s unruly wig), so parents could easily treat this one as a special event for their growing youngster.
Aside from that, I’m not sure how many adults would go for this often ludicrous fantasy which is filmed and costumed to look like an Estée Lauder ad from 1996. Nothing about it seems quite fitting, much less the way the elite would have been adorned at court in Versailles. We all know the palace in France was the place to see and be seen, but the attire on display here is a trivial interpretation that often comes off as laughable. Take Scodelario’s big reveal dress, for instance. She’s meant to be wearing a gorgeous gown everyone is drooling over, but it looks like a frock you’d find the night before prom…and don’t even get me started on the shoes. Thankfully, Scodelario is acting the hell out of the role and bringing alone husband Benjamin Walker (The Choice, a dead-ringer for Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace). The chemistry they have is, understandably, believable. Though the effects often hide her, Fan Bingbing (The 355) manages to get some emotion through as the mermaid everyone is out to either save or, gulp, eat.
I’m sure many people involved with The King’s Daughter are just glad it’s finally surfacing after all this time. Fans of the book may not be thrilled because it sounds like the film diverts quite significantly from the original text, but the adaptation from Barry Berman and James Schamus makes it far more family-friendly. That’s what this one is targeted to and should be marketed for, anyway. If you meet the demographic that would enjoy this sometimes sloppy, often soggy fairytale, then I would say giving it a shot might be worth your time. Swim right by if the material doesn’t speak to you from the advertising alone. There’s plenty of fish in the sea.