The King’s Daughter is quite literally a film from another time. Filmed back in 2014 and held from release for a myriad of reasons, the adaptation of the 1997 novel The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre finally gets its day in the sun in 2022. Shelving films is often a drastic and sad move, but this film makes a case for such things can happen. Some films just don’t have it in them to be great, despite the potential being so high and The King’s Daughter is certainly one such film.

Kicking off this peculiar fairytale is King Louis XIV’s (Pierce Brosnan) illegitimate daughter, Marie-Josèphe (Kaya Scodelario), who was hidden away in a covenant. The king not only has an aversion for caring for his children, but he is also opposed to aging. To fight mortality, King Louis XIV commissions a search for a mythical mermaid. His efforts are complicated when he invites his daughter to court to become his new music composer and she happens to discover the existence of the creature. Marie-Josèphe is a free-spirited young woman who instantly connects with the CGI mermaid (Fan Bingbing), finding a kindred spirit within the creature. Marie must do what she can to protect the mermaid from the selfish royal, who, unbeknownst to Marie, is her father. The story seems simple enough, but what unfolds for an hour and thirty minutes is a film that is anything but.


Related: Cinderella Review: 2021’s Fairytale Adaptation Is Hollow, Bland & Cringe-Worthy

the king's daughter review
Kaya Scodelario and Crystal Clarke in The King’s Daughter

The King’s Daughter is a bit of a convoluted mess. It is annoyingly set in France while the story is inhabited by non-French actors. With the creative liberties the script — by Barry Berman and James Schamus — takes with the novel, the film could have transplanted the story to the U.K and made the casting of the project make a lot more sense. The more screen time Pierce Brosnan has, the more difficult it is to overcome his very Irish accent, which is only exacerbated by his bad wig and his truly off-kilter performance as the greedy king. However, his accent and the varying British accents from the ensemble is the least of this films’ problems.

The King’s Daughter lacks coherence and there is no sense of time or place as the accents, wigs/hair, costumes and production design clash with each other. All of that could be somewhat overlooked if the story wasn’t entirely made up of loosely tied narrative threads. For one thing, the king has too much of a presence in the film without ever earning viewers’ interest. He is a proud king, a neglectful father, a philanderer seeking God’s forgiveness every morning, and more. But with each new detail added, the less we know or understand the protagonist. However, there is more done to flesh out Brosnan’s character than Marie-Josèphe, the film’s titular character, which does a great disservice to Kaya Scodelario’s impassioned performance. The film, through extremely choppy editing, also splits its focus between other characters who all have their own motivations and arcs, though they tend to be inconsequential or never adequately told. The King’s Daughter ultimately struggles with perspective, with the plot including layers of story that make for an over-embellished narrative.

the king's daughter review
Kaya Scodelario and Benjamin Walker in The King’s Daughter

With the central narrative involving the mermaid, there is the addition of an ambitious young duke (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), a burgeoning romance between the illegitimate princess with lowly fisherman Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker), a shady doctor (Pablo Schreiber) who wishes to dissect the mermaid for her life force, and a priest (William Hurt) who has a moral objection to the whole mermaid situation. With each new character arc, The King’s Daughter moves further and further away from Marie, who is a collection of ideas and details that never form a fully realized person. She is a talented musician who feels a pull towards the sea, but she is distractingly naive about nearly everything, a wide-eyed dreamer who is as hollow as a drum. 

What’s more, there is zero development of Marie’s relationship with Yves, who was changed from being Marie’s older brother in the book to her romantic interest in the film. Scodelario has more chemistry with the delightful Crystal Clarke, who plays Marie’s friend Magali, than with Walker. A more simplistic script would have done wonders for Marie as a character (and as the lead of the film), and it would have also made the film so much more bearable. The film struggles in the narrative department, but that is nothing compared to its confusing presentation. As noted before, The King’s Daughter seems to be confused about what the French should sound like, but it is also confused about what they should look like. The costuming greatly diminishes the enjoyment of the film as none of what is worn reflects 16th century France.

Pierce Brosnan in The King’s Daughter

Period-accurate costuming is not entirely the end-all-be-all of historical fiction, but when the gowns look like they were torn from a prom episode of Gossip Girl there’s a problem. Anachronistic costuming is nothing new and has certainly become a bit of a trend today with Bridgerton, The Great, and Dickinson playing with time and modernizing what can often be impractical or overly elaborate fashion. However, the costuming of The King’s Daughter inadvertently reflects what the film lacks — enchantment. With the glittering whimsy and grandeur of the backdrop, it is awfully counterintuitive to not have the costuming meet the standard set by the Palace of Versailles. 

The King’s Daughter is not without its wins, and the score is appropriately dramatic and charming. The film looks nice, with a touch of that “this is a fantasy” glow. However, The King’s Daughter needed a lot less on the page and a lot more attention paid to its editing and lead character. Each scene should not feel like it belongs in a different film, especially considering its incredibly wild ending. The King’s Daughter is lifeless and nothing about it is enchanting, which makes the convoluted story, the vastly underdeveloped lead, and distracting costume choices that much more noticeable. There could have been a lot to love about The King’s Daughter, but it seems the creative team simply did not know what to do with it. 

NEXT: Munich: The Edge Of War Review – Netflix’s WWII Drama Hits The Right Notes

The King’s Daughter released in theaters on January 21. It is 97 minutes long and rated PG for some violence, suggestive material and thematic elements.

Our Rating:

1.5 out of 5 (Poor, A Few Good Parts)

  • The King’s Daughter (2022)Release date: Jan 21, 2022

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