The King’s Daughter

Every day The Sun King, Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan) sits on the end of his bed with his spiritual advisor, Père La Chaise (William Hurt), to confess his sins, sins which the priest usually lets slide with a raised eyebrow.  But there is one thing La Chaise vehemently condemns the King for and that is his determination to find immortality, something royal physician Dr. Labarthe (Pablo Schreiber, "Den of Thieves") advises may be accomplished with the life force of a mermaid, one which Captain Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker, "Me Before You," HBO's 'Industry') is sent to capture.  But the King will be surprised by the fight put up for the mermaid’s (Fan Bingbing, "The 355") freedom by the young woman, Marie-Josèphe (Kaya Scodelario, "Wuthering Heights"), he recently brought to court from a convent, a woman who is, it turns out, “The King’s Daughter.”

Laura's Review: B-

This long delayed film, originally set to be released by Paramount in 2015, finally arrives in theaters after back and forth on visual effects (Fan Bingbing’s mermaid is digitally animated and one wonders why) and perhaps the mermaid’s 2018 Chinese tax evasion scandal.  Narrated by Julie Andrews, this historical fantasy romance adventure is a throwback - part slightly cheesy girly girly fairy tail, part swashbuckling absurdist fantasy adventure a la “The Princess Bride.”  The film’s yawning sensibilities are illustrated by its elaborate locations at Versailles where the King dances with his daughter in the Hall of Mirrors and Marie-Josèphe parades around its manicured grounds yet those scenes are peopled with female courtiers who appear to have been costumed from the roaring 20’s, Hot Topic or the local mall’s prom selection and there is not a powdered wig or face to be seen. 

And yet director Sean McNamara ("Soul Surfer"), working with a script adapted from Vonda McIntyre’s ‘The Moon and the Sun’ by Ronald Bass ("Rain Man", Barry Berman (Benny & Joon) and "Paulie's" Laura Harrington, keeps us entertained despite inconsistencies.  Brosnan and Hurt have an amusing bromance where hedonism meets Catholicism, at least until the King begins to go all evil, not only colluding to kill a mermaid but demanding that Marie-Josèphe marry the fawning Lintillac (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), the son of France's richest merchant, in order to refill his coffers.  Meanwhile, she’s fallen for the dashing Captain Yves (Walker resembles a young Liam Neeson), who has been put in charge of containing the mermaid in an underground cave with a giant water wheel.  Will Marie-Josèphe’s pure heart and rebellious nature be enough to save the day?

The film’s cast belies its stormy journey to the big screen and it is interesting to note how stars have risen and fallen in the intervening years.  Scodelario, who hasn’t had many lead movie roles in recent years, is a serious minded yet plucky heroine, nicely paired here with Crystal Clarke ("The Electrical Life of Louis Wain") as her lady-in-waiting Magali.  Schreiber’s career has built in over time, but Lloyd-Hughes remains unknown and based on his work here, Walker should be better known.  Rachel Griffiths, ("Hilary and Jackie", HBO’s ‘Six Feet Under’) appears early in a small role as Marie-Josèphe’s exasperated Abbess.

If you go into “The King’s Daughter” familiar with its history, you might be expecting disaster, but despite a few wobbles, you should end up pleasantly surprised.

Robin's Review: B+

King Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan) has everything he could ever want, except for one thing: immortality. To achieve this one elusive thing, he orders the capture of a magical mermaid and use her life force to get that one thing. But, when his strong-willed illegitimate daughter, Marie-Josephe (Kaya Scodelario), joins his court she has other plans as “The King’s Daughter.”

As is my habit these days, I go into watching a new movie with little or no foreknowledge about its plot. With “The King’s Daughter” that turned out to be exactly the way I needed to be. If you are in the market for a femme-centric, swashbuckling adventure with magic entwined, an evil vivisectionist, a mad, delusional king and a mermaid, this is the film for you – especially if you are a young teenage girl looking for a good role model.

Marie-Josephe has spent her young life cloistered in a nunnery where her copious musical talents are nurtured. Then comes the order for her to go to Versailles to the throne of King Louis XIV, the Sun King, where she is to add freshness and youth to the place.

Meanwhile, an expedition, led by the handsome Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker), is sent to capture a mermaid and deliver her to the king – the key to Louis’s plan for immortality. He and his crew succeed and bring their captive to Louis’s court. The plot proceeds under the watchful eye of evil vivisectionist, Dr. Labarth (Pablo Schreiber), and going according to the King’s plan. They did not count on Marie-Josephe.

This is where “The King’s Daughter” goes into swashbuckling adventure mode and the action, with the rescue of the magical mermaid (Bingbing Fan), kicking into high gear. Kaya Scodelario, as the pretty and plucky Marie-Joseph, captures the innocence and moral intensity of a young woman who burns with kindness and humanity and will stand up and fight for what is right. As I said, she is a good role model.

I had more fun watching “The King’s Daughter” than I should have and that is because the filmmakers are both seriously professional and quite mirthful in their storytelling. Director Sean McNamara and his two veteran stars, Pierce Brosnan as King Louis and William Hurt as his priest and adviser, Pere La Choice, give the film a slightly serious aura. Then, Brosnan chews up the scenery as the vain and power King of France and the proceeds are fun to watch.

The clever rescue tale centers, of course, on the titular offspring and her mission of rescue for the ethereal sea creature of legend. This is where the action begins and it is done with a style that would make fans of Amanda Quick’s bodice rippers quite happy with its beautiful, brave and noble characters. It kind of makes me envious of 14-year old teenage girls. Maybe, just maybe, “The King’s Daughter” brings out the 14-year old teenage girl in me.

Gravitas Ventures releases “The King’s Daughter” in theaters on 1/21/22.  Click here for showtimes.