The King’s Daughter lacks any of the awe-inspiring elements that made its source novel a winner

click to enlarge Pierce Brosnan's wig (left) is the best special effect in this bad fantasy film.
Pierce Brosnan's wig (left) is the best special effect in this bad fantasy film.

A film that attempts to blend the magical with the historical in 17th-century France, The King’s Daughter is a baffling work that succeeds at neither and mostly just leaves you fascinated with Pierce Brosnan’s luscious locks.

The story, based on the award-winning 1997 novel The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre, follows Brosnan’s woefully wigged King Louis XIV, who is desperate to achieve immortality. To do so, he orders the capturing of a mermaid in the hopes of stealing her life force. Complicating matters is the arrival of his daughter, Marie-Josèphe D’Alember (Kaya Scodelario), who forms a bond with the mermaid and will attempt to protect the creature from her father’s selfish intentions.

The entire thing is, quite simply, a massive misfire on all levels. The elements that added a darker sensibility from the original novel — which beat out Game of Thrones at the sci-fi and fantasy-oriented Nebula Awards for “best novel” the year it was released — are gone, replaced with a more sanguine sensibility that falls completely flat. It is all disappointingly tentative and safe, unwilling to dive deeper into the material beyond the surface. It is a fairytale devoid of wonder and awe, unable to justify its own existence for more than a few moments. All the pieces assembled, from the banal direction to the superficial writing, fall apart from the very opening scenes and never put themselves back together again.


The result is a film that is doomed by painfully stiff dialogue combined with visually flat sequences, many of which appear to be shot on poorly hidden green screens, that never really amount to much of anything. Save for some unique costuming choices, it all plods along with jagged pacing that truncates many of the early scenes into poorly paced gruel. Flavorless and unimaginative, by the time the main thrust of the story gets going you will wish you were watching something demonstrating a modicum of creativity.

The experience is old and tired, outdated in such a way that it all makes sense when you learn the film was supposed to come out in 2014. However, three weeks before its intended release, it was pulled from the schedule over what was believed to be more time required on the special effects. One would think nearly eight years would make these effects something substantial, though they are barely passable, especially when seen through modern eyes.

Even if you forgive these technical shortfalls as products of their time, the mechanics of the story remain poorly constructed. Characters are entirely underdeveloped, with Crystal Clarke’s Magali reduced to being a guide to Marie-Josèphe without much else to work with. Fan Bingbing as the actual mermaid is not given enough to feel like an actual character. There is a half-hearted romance, a shallow internal ideological struggle within the kingdom, and a predictable conclusion all built around the eclipse that lacks emotional engagement. Even the great actor William Hurt as the king’s spiritual adviser Père La Chaise can’t instill the scenes he gets with enough presence to overcome its pitfalls.

Perhaps there will one day be a documentary or deeply reported piece about the production of this film that uncovers why it took nearly a decade to be released in the dead of January after being shelved. Maybe it was all so they could get Julie Andrews to provide redundant, expository narration. Honestly, that making-of story would be far more interesting than whatever was being attempted here. The best thing that can be said about The King’s Daughter is that it is mercifully short at 90 minutes, though even that far overstays its welcome. ♦


One Half Star THE KING’S DAUGHTER
Rated PG
Directed by Sean McNamara
Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, William Hurt

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