By Lynn Venhaus
Once upon a time, a romantic fantasy based on the 1997 book, “The Moon and the Sun” by Vonda N. McIntyre, sat on some studio’s shelf for eight years.
But to deprive moviegoers craving a ‘so-bad-it’s-fun-to-watch’ movie in pandemic times would be another cruelty, so “The King’s Daughter” hit the multiplexes in January. Yes, exclusive to theaters. None of this video on demand or DVD release — yet. But oh, it will be here soon enough digitally, and it may entice more unsuspecting viewers, because on paper, it seems harmless enough.
Hoping to achieve immortality, King Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan) captures a mermaid and plans to steals her life force during a solar eclipse, but a discovery by his illegitimate daughter threatens to ruin the king’s plan.
“How can it be that bad, with Julie Andrews the narrator (I was thinking “Bridgerton”); former James Bond Pierce Brosnan as a King (he played one in Amazon Prime’s original “Cinderella,” though last year, and that was another trainwreck); Oscar winner William Hurt as the king’s priest and confidante; Tony and Emmy nominee Pablo Schreiber as the palace doctor; hunky musical theater star Benjamin Walker (“Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter”) – and major Chinese star Fan Bingbing as a mermaid in captivity?” I thought.
Well. Let’s point out what is packed into its 96 minutes: Mermaids! Lost City of Atlantis: A solar eclipse! King Louis XIV of France! An illegitimate daughter! The stunning palace of Versailles (real footage!) and pretty young people.
This Harlequin Romance meets fantasy fiction is given the glossy Hallmark treatment in a film that can’t easily be described. Part legend, part adventure and all preposterous, this does the good people connected with it no favors.
However, in seeking something positive to mention – the cinematographer is Conrad W. Hall, son of the late great Conrad L. Hall, the heralded cinematographer whose work spanned 50 years and won three Oscars for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “American Beauty” and “The Road to Perdition.” He makes the film look beautiful.
The daughter, Marie-Josephe, whose mother died in childbirth so she was raised in a Catholic orphanage and doesn’t know she’s the king’s daughter – but comes to the court as a cello player. She’s played by the engaging Kaya Scodelaria, who has enough spunk to fit the fearless, feisty heroine role who soon becomes involved in a love triangle, forced to marry a rich, albeit nefarious, duke but instead is n love with the long-locked sea captain Yves (Walker). Apparently, he won her heart in real-life too, for they fell in love during the movie shoot, married a year later and now have two children!
But here’s the real story. It was made in 2014. And only released now. If you do the math, that means eight years. So, what happened? I would love to know because that story is likely more fascinating than this turgid drivel.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Ron Bass, who wrote “Rain Man,” was listed in the earlier screenplay credits but in the film, his name has been removed, with Barry Berman and James Schamus the sole remaining writers. Hmmm…
Despite the film’s lush look, the ridiculous dialogue and a puzzling fashion design make it really hard to like. Not to mention Brosnan’s frighteningly bad rock star wig – I guess going for a Fabio book cover look?
The CGI for the mermaid, living underwater in an underground lair of the palace (!?!), is awful. As are the wigs and clothes of all the humans.
The costumes appear as if they’ve just been in a Vogue magazine shoot – or rejects from the Madonna “Vogue” music video, take your pick.
The court’s populated with mean girls who mock Marie-Josephe’s modest convent garb, but then she’s suddenly donning red-carpet looks from the modern age.
OK, it may be a bunch of hooey, but I do have girlfriends who watch every Hallmark Channel Christmas movie and love historical romances, so I don’t want to be unkind to fans of this genre. I’m not a film snob, and I actually am a fan of soap operas, a fun guilty pleasure for escapism.
But this is so bad, it’s not good – even as comical entertainment. (And you know who you are).
“The King’s Daughter” is a 2014 film released in 2022, a romance, fantasy, drama directed by Sean McNamara. It stars Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelaria, William Hurt, Benjamin Walker, Pablo Shreiber and Rachel Griffiths and runs 1 hour, 36 minutes. Rated PG for some violence, suggestive material and thematic elements. In theaters Jan. 21. Lynn’s Grade: D
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.