Sometimes I’m in the mood for a nice, silly popcorn movie that I don’t have to think too much into, and Sean McNamara “The King’s Daughter” is certainly one of those. The box office hasn’t been kind to it (it’s made a little over $700,000 off a $40 million budget), but is its financial failure deserved, or is it just a result of a still uniquely challenging time for films that lack strong branding like Marvel films?
The film takes place during the reign of King Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan) of France, in which the popular monarch receives a captured mermaid (Fan Bingbing) from an expedition to find Atlantis led by Captain Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker). After a failed attempt on his life, the Sun King hopes that the mermaid can unlock the secrets to eternal life, even if it means that his doctor, Labarthe (Pablo Schreiber) has to kill her.
We follow King Louis’ daughter, Marie-Josèphe (Kaya Scodelario), who comes to Versailles around the same time as the mermaid, and the two form an unexpected bond. Marie-Josèphe had previously lived for years in a convert, unaware of her lineage, until the King’s summons. She’s given time to adjust to Versailles but is never given the full princess treatment — her relation to the King is kept a secret except for the King’s inner circle until the very end, which allows her freedom to move around the grounds of the palace that she might not otherwise have. A gifted cellist, it seems like most of those in the palace just regard her as a musician.
Marie-Josèphe forms an instant bond with her lady-in-waiting, Magali (Crystal Clarke), and eventually becomes romantically involved with De La Croix, who helps her visit the Mermaid. There is a romantic gloss over the entirety of the film, as it really tries to portray most of the story as a lighthearted adventure, and the film really zooms in on Scodelario, Walker and Brosnan’s charm. Père La Chaise (William Hurt), a priest and adviser close to the king, is a character that reinforces this tone, as his daily ritual with the king is to recite a prayer of forgiveness for the king, which becomes a strange theme in the film — no one is held accountable, least of all the king.
Mild spoilers, but King Louis’ summoning of Marie-Josèphe and his capture of the mermaid were for selfish gain, as he plans to marry her off to a wealthy aristocrat named Jean-Michel Lintillac (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) in order to fill France’s treasury, and kill the mermaid in order to make himself immortal. Marie-Josèphe and Captain De La Croix resist him, helping the mermaid escape while they plan to flee to the sea.
If you’ve seen a Disney princess film, you’ll know the drill here. King Louis is found to be in the wrong for trying to marry Marie-Josèphe off for selfish gain, as she wants to marry De La Croix for love. Any nuance beyond the scope of that is nonexistent; this isn’t a film about being the practical ruler of a country and having to make hard decisions, it’s purely a popcorn film about the fantasy of royal life, with some fantastical elements mixed in via the mermaid.
The mermaid itself is a cheap gimmick that I don’t mind, but the filmmakers could’ve done a much better job at presentation. The mermaid is all-CGI and looks like she’s made of wax — it lives firmly in the uncanny valley, and it would have been much better if it was just a non-CG actress in a costume.
This film is good for what it is — a pleasant fantasy-adventure film with romantic elements that aims low but achieves what it was going for.
“The King’s Daughter” gets a 7/10