King's Daughter, The (Australia, 2021)

January 20, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
King's Daughter, The Poster

Calling a movie a “fairy tale” and having Julie Andrews provide “Once Upon a Time…” bookend narration are not sufficient reasons to abandon things like intelligent plotting and compelling character development. For years, various Disney animated films (and you can’t get more “fairy tale” than that) have shown this. The King’s Daughter fails in part because of the thinness of what’s on-screen but there’s also a sense that the ideas picked through so haphazardly could have been harvested for a much better, more fulfilling experience.

The movie’s general ineffectuality and failure to generate viewer involvement are undoubtedly reasons why it has sat untouched for seven years since its completion (filming concluded in late 2014). Originally, Paramount Pictures had planned a 2015 release but that was canceled at the last minute and the movie wasn’t heard from for five years until Gravitas Ventures acquired the rights. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the leads, particularly Pierce Brosnan, William Hurt, and Kaya Scodelario, look considerably different on screen in 2022 than they do in real life.

The story, which is based on the late Vonda MacIntyre’s novel The Moon and the Sun, changes so many things as to disconnect the two properties. In the source material, there was no “secret” father/daughter relationship, the main love interest didn’t exist, and many of the characters had different identities or motivations. It goes without saying that the novel is more coherent and better thought-out and there’s not a single change that elevates the film to a higher level. The screenwriters, including the well-regarded Ronald Bass and James Schamus, botch the adaptation.

The King’s Daughter transpires in the late 1600s, during the latter years of the reign of King Louis XIV of France (Pierce Brosnan). Although Louis is an historical character, his life and personality are heavily fictionalized in the movie. There’s little of the “real” king to be found here. Desirous of achieving immortality (so he can continue to lead France into the future), Louis has brought a “scientist” named Labarthe (Pablo Schreiber) to court. Labarthe believes that if a legendary mermaid can be captured and sacrificed in a ritual held during an eclipse, she can confer unending life to the king. Although Louis’ religious advisor and confessor, Pere La Chaise (William Hurt), dismisses this as fanciful and possibly sacrilegious talk, Louis is intrigued enough to commission a voyage to the drowned city of Atlantis to search for a mermaid. Commanding the ship is the convicted criminal Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker), who has been promised a pardon if he succeeds in capturing the half-woman/half-fish. He does so, and brings her back to Paris.

The mermaid (played by an unrecognizable Bingbing Fan) is not the only new arrival to the city. “Rescued” from the convent where she has been residing is Marie-Joseph (Kaya Scodelario), Louis’ “secret” illegitimate daughter. She is brought to court to act as the king’s new music composer. While there, she develops a connection with the mermaid, who is held captive in an underground pool. There is also an attraction between Marie-Jospeh and Yves, which is problematic because the king has decided to marry her to the wealthy Duke Jean-Michel Lintillac (Ben Lloyd-Hughes).

As a family film, The King’s Daughter is bland and possibly too complicated for younger viewers to appreciate. As an adventure, it’s plodding and offers nary a surprise. As a drama, it is hamstrung by too many easy plot points and an undeserved redemption. As a love story, the lack of chemistry between actress Scodelario and actor Walker hurts an already underwritten romantic angle. The only thing the movie does marginally well is to present Louis as a conflicted character – less a conventional villain and more a Shakespearean figure. However, although the screenplay toys with this aspect, it never commits to it, which is a shame.

The movie’s U.S. long-delayed theatrical release is scheduled for January 2022. It is coming to theaters with minimal fanfare and will likely disappear too quickly for anyone to notice. As a streaming offering available as part of a subscription package, it might be considered an adequate way to pass 90 minutes but as a reason to venture out to a theater, it’s hard to imagine anyone willing to go to those lengths for something this forgettable.

King's Daughter, The (Australia, 2021)

Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 2022-01-21
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1