The King’s Daughter wastes so much of its production on staging a boring historical fantasy.
Published on April 26, 2023
Rating 1.5 /5
The King’s Daughter is a costume drama that tries to weave in fantasy with all the stuffiness of the least interesting Masterpiece Theater entries. It assembles all the necessary elements to make it a wondrous experience, including the abundance of costumes, wigs, architecture, and a mermaid with a CGI-smothered face. But there’s a reason why this film sat on the shelf for the longest time, and it’s mainly because a movie this decadent and stylish has all the glamour and none of the personality.
King Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan) is royalty obsessed with his mortality. He fears death, but seemingly because he bled a bit after falling off a horse, he is concerned with his political reign lasting as long as possible. His desperation doesn’t seem present, but perhaps that’s tough because of his wake-up routine of different clothes, wigs, and an orchestra playing outside his window. Even for being the most well-to-do man in France, he seems bored with his role, almost as if he doesn’t care about immortality. It makes his orders to find a mermaid that can halt aging seem more like a chore than a fearful act to ward off the existential dread.
One would think that his daughter, Marie-Josèphe (Kaya Scodelario), would be a breath of fresh air for being rebellious and desiring more out of life. She has the classic case of a royal family member hoping to escape the dreary nature of love bound by politics and palace life, in general, being a dull experience. So when a mermaid shows up in the palace, she’d be ecstatic. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get to spend much time with the fantastical creature and is more concerned about being forced into marriage with the conniving Jean-Michel Lintillac (Ben Lloyd-Hughes). She’d much rather hook up with the kinder soul Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker), someone willing to help her save a mermaid.
This is a weird movie in terms of its assembly. The writing is already lackluster, but the choppy editing makes one believe this film was much longer than 94 minutes. The film is already a slog of exposition and lacking emotion, despite the quick cutting and fast jumping it does from one scene to the next. A more extended version may exist in which Brosnan spends even more time standing around in period clothing and speaking in a manner so dry this film begs for a splash. Come to think of it, the film features a handful of scenes where Marie jumps or falls into water that all feel tiresome. One fall into a foundation is telegraphed with anticipation shots and suspenseful music, all trying to amp up a common slip. Even when this film tries to place drama in these mundane moments, they never become entertaining.
The King’s Daughter wastes so much of its production on staging a boring historical fantasy. Fan Bingbing felt like she should be the breakout star of this picture for her distinct look and for playing a wondrous mermaid that has her moments. And yet she turns into background material, becoming as compelling a character as Brosnan’s questionable wig. All of this amounts to a film that asks, “What would The Little Mermaid be like if we ignored the mermaid and spent all the time with the dull royalty?” The answer is a dreary experience that does little to earn its baffling finale, which tries and fails to bring out the fantasy. Fixing this mess will take more than an underwater city and a modern romance song.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.