What did I watch? I don’t know. And it hurts my brain to ponder on 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. Which is to say: not at all, it’s just a hulking ornament built by some dude with too much money in order to make himself feel fancy.
So this movie could itself be a thing that King Louis XIV, the 17th-century French monarch known as The Sun King, might have had installed when he was plumping up his palace at Versailles, for gaudy shits and outrageous giggles, and who cares if it makes any sense or not.
Perhaps not at all coincidentally, Pierce Brosnan (Cinderella, No Escape) here plays King Louis XIV, and he wants to kill a mermaid at the upcoming solar eclipse so he can use her magic to make him immortal. Totally normal monarch. The court physician, Dr. Labarthe (Pablo Schreiber: First Man, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi), is twirling his metaphorical mustache at the idea of dissecting the mermaid to get at her immortality lobe or whatever it is. Meanwhile, Louis’s priest and most trusted adviser, Pere La Chaise (William Hurt: Black Widow, Winter’s Tale) starts to wonder if maybe killing is bad.
Dumped into the middle of this is — you guessed it — the king’s daughter, Marie-Josephe (Kaya Scodelario: Maze Runner: 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, though 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 on that because the mermaid is not a character at all, just a blur of FX swimming in the little underground pond they’re keeping her in.
Now, Marie-Josephe doesn’t know she’s the king’s daughter, and Louis tells Pere La Chaise that no one must know she is his daughter. In the bizarre narration — by Julie Andrews! (Aquaman, Despicable Me) in a desperate attempt to inject some sense of the fairy tale to this — Marie-Josephe is referred to as the king’s “long-lost daughter,” but: no. She’s been deliberately hidden away, kept prisoner, really, at a nunnery since birth. Why even bring her to Versailles at all? (There’s a suggestion that the king is tired of the musicians in his court, and she’s supposedly a really good musician whose work might please him, but she can’t be the only possible person in all of France for the job, surely?) There is no clear answer to this massive mess of a conundrum, except that they couldn’t have called the movie The King’s Daughter otherwise.
But here’s the thing! The novel this is very loosely based on isn’t called The King’s Daughter. It’s called The Moon and the Sun, by Vonda N. McIntyre. (It won the highly prestigious Nebula Award in 1997; also nominated that year: George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.) And as far as I can tell 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 has had the poster for this movie slapped on it, along with a title change to The King’s Daughter, as well as one of those bursts that reads “now a major motion picture.” This is, I think, the first time that sort of thing made me reflexively snark, “Well, I wouldn’t call it major…”)
It’s a bit gross that Marie-Josephe’s love interest in the movie, ship captain and mermaid capturer 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* her brother. It’s more than a bit gross that Marie-Josephe’s slave servant in the book here becomes Magali (Crystal Clarke: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Woman in Gold), who instantly loves and trusts the stranger who has been thrust at her, and whom she is happy to serve. But that’s nothing to the weird ickiness of the movie having Louis slobbering all over Marie-Josephe. He knows he’s the younger woman’s father, but no one else does, and the court full of catty, salacious gossipmongers should all be presuming he’s trying to get into Marie-Josephe’s pantaloons, as she herself should be. Plus we’ve seen him getting absolution every morning from the priest over whatever different random court lady shared his bed the night before.
This movie has no idea of the accidental horror of itself.
I repeat: this is mostly a movie about a king — whom we’re supposed to take as rather a nice chap but who is clearly raving mad — who wants to kill a mermaid so he can live forever, not for himself, you see, but for his people. Who universally adore him. (The guillotines of the French revolution are still a century away.)
Oh, and about that court full of catty, salacious gossipmongers. What with the sort-of-modern dress and punk makeup almost everyone is in, it all comes across as themed high-school prom from 1994. That’s kinda horrifying, too. Director Sean McNamara (Raise Your Voice) does not have the wherewithal to make that kind of anachronistic style work, and definitely is not able to render it as the “lavish and glimmering hell” the abbess (Rachel Griffiths: Saving Mr. Banks, Ned Kelly) at Marie-Josephe’s former nunnery decries it as. If only!
This sub-Disneyland-esque crap was shot — not at Epcot Center, apparently! — in 2014, and was completed and originally scheduled for release in 2015. It has been sitting on a shelf for seven years. Somebody’s reverse magic mirror has been holding back this bad luck, but now, it seems, that magic mirror has broken, and we’ve all been cursed.