OWhat did I watch? I do not know. And it hurts my brain to think about it.
The King’s Daughter is ostensibly a movie in the same way that, say, a Victorian garden folly is ostensibly a Japanese temple or a medieval castle. That is to say: not at all, it’s just a huge ornament built by a guy with too much money to enjoy himself.
So this movie might itself be something that King Louis XIV, the 17th century French monarch known as The Sun King, might have set up when he was plumping up his palace at Versailles, for garish shits and outrageous laughs, and it doesn’t matter if it makes sense or not.
Perhaps not at all by chance, Pierce Brosnan (Cinderella, no escape) plays King Louis XIV here, and he wants to kill a mermaid during the next solar eclipse so he can use his magic to make him immortal. Completely normal monarch. The court physician, Dr. Labarthe (Pablo Schreiber: First Man, 1 p.m.: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi), twirls his metaphorical mustache at the thought of dissecting the mermaid to reach his lobe of immortality or whatever. Meanwhile, Louis’s priest and most trusted adviser, Pere La Chaise (William Hurt: Black Widow, Winter’s Tale) begins to wonder if maybe killing is bad.
In the middle of this is – you guessed it – the king’s daughter, Marie-Josephe (Kaya Scodelario: Maze: The Death Cure, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), who wants to save the mermaid (the face of Bingbing Fan [X-Men: Days of Future Past, Iron Man 3], very occasionally, but under a ton of CGI). Marie-Josephe keeps insisting that the mermaid is not a monster or a creature but basically a person, and we’ll just have to take her word for it because the mermaid isn’t a character at all, just a blur of FX swimming in the small underground pond they keep her in.
Now Marie-Josephe does not know that she is the king’s daughter, and Louis tells Father La Chaise that no one should know that she is his daughter. In bizarre narration — by Julie Andrews! (Aquaman, Despicable Me) in a desperate attempt to infuse it with a sense of fairy tale – Marie-Josephe is referred to as the “long-lost daughter” of the king, but: no. She has been deliberately hidden, kept prisoner, in fact, in a convent since birth. Why even bring him to Versailles? (There is a suggestion that the king is tired of the musicians in his court, and she is supposed to be a very good musician whose job he might like, but she cannot be the only possible person in all of France for the job , surely?) There’s no clear answer to this huge mess of riddle except that they couldn’t have called the movie The King’s Daughter other.
But here’s the thing! The novel from which it is very vaguely inspired is not called The King’s Daughter. It’s called The Moon and the Sun, by Vonda N. McIntyre. (Won the very prestigious Nebula Award in 1997; also nominated that year: George RR Martin’s A game of thrones.) And as far as I know without having read it, the character of Marie-Josephe in the book is not, in fact, the king’s daughter. (A new edition of the book bears the poster for this film, as well as a title change to The King’s Daughter, as well as one of those gusts that says “now a major movie.” This is, I think, the first time this sort of thing has made me reflexively chuckle, “Well, I wouldn’t call it Major…”)
It’s kind of gross that Marie-Josephe’s love interest in the film, ship captain and mermaid catcher Yves de la Croix (Benjamin Walker: In the Heart of the Sea, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), has the same name as the character in the book who is *blecch* his brother. It’s more than a little disgusting that Marie-Josephe’s slave maid in the book here becomes Magali (Crystal Clarke: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the golden woman), who instantly loves and trusts the stranger thrown at her and whom she is happy to serve. But that’s nothing compared to the strange disgust of the film where Louis drools all over Marie-Josephe. He knows he’s the young woman’s father, but no one else does, and the court full of salacious, salacious gossip should all assume he’s trying to get into Marie-Josephe’s pants, as itself should be. Plus, we’ve seen him get absolution every morning from the priest for any other random court lady who had shared his bed the night before.
This film has no idea of accidental horror on its own.
I repeat: it’s mostly a movie about a king – who we’re supposed to take more for a nice boy but who is clearly berserk – who wants to kill a mermaid to live forever, not for himself, you see, but for his people. Who universally adores him. (The guillotines of the French Revolution are still a century away.)
Oh, and about that yard full of mean, salacious gossip. With the modern attire and punk makeup that almost everyone wears, it all looks like a high school-themed prom from 1994. It’s a little horrifying, too. Director Sean McNamara (Speak louder) doesn’t have the wherewithal to make that kind of anachronistic style work, and certainly isn’t capable of rendering it as the abbess’ “lavish, glistening hell” (Rachel Griffiths: Saving Mr. Banks, Ned Kelly) at the former convent of Marie-Josephe denounces him as. If only!
This sub-Disneyland-esque shit was shot — not at Epcot Center, apparently! – in 2014, and was completed and originally slated for release in 2015. It sat on the shelf for seven years. Someone’s inverted magic mirror held back that bad luck, but now it seems that magic mirror has shattered and we’ve all been cursed.