The King’s Daughter
2022, PG, 90 min. Directed by Sean McNamara. Starring Kaya Scodelario, Pierce Brosnan, William Hurt, Benjamin Walker, Fan Bingbing, Pablo Schreiber, Crystal Clarke, Ben Lloyd-Hughes.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Jan. 28, 2022
My favorite period of an actor’s career is the narrow window where they’re big enough to headline major movies but still have a few small projects kicking around on Hollywood shelves. Kaya Scodelario may be inching toward stardom thanks to her work in franchises like The Maze Runner. Still, it was another 2014 feature – The King’s Daughter, based on Vonda N. McIntrye’s award-winning novel The Moon and the Sun – that once seemed destined to put her on the map.
Eight years later, the film has finally found its way to the screen. Scodelario plays Marie-Josèphe, the newly appointed court composer (and unknowing daughter) of King Louis XIV (Brosnan). When Marie-Josèphe discovers that the king has captured a mythical mermaid, she quickly befriends both the creature and its gruff caretaker (Walker). But when the true machinations of the king are revealed, Marie-Josèphe and her new friends must hatch a plot to save the mermaid before it is too late – and maybe redeem her father in the process.
Thanks to principal photography at the Palace of Versailles, The King’s Daughter offers a surprisingly convincing spin on the French court. Everything in the movie is just a little better than the tumultuous production would lead you to believe, from the chemistry between Scodelario and Walker (the two actors would marry in 2015) to the cast’s performances. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Brosnan understands the assignment; his royal lothario contributes to some of the film’s best running gags (including his regular confessions to the court priest). In addition, his chemistry with co-star William Hurt adds a much-needed piece of ennui to the proceedings.
Perhaps the biggest star of the film is costume designer Lizzy Gardiner. An Oscar winner in 1995 for her work in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, here she finds a balance between leather and period design that makes the entire film pop. With good costumes and good scenery, half the battle for The King’s Daughter is already won.
While director Sean McNamara cannot match the kinetic storytelling of Matthew Vaughn, there is more than a dash of Stardust in the final product. Rather than undermine the film, the tension between contributors allows the film to operate more as an Eighties-esque fantasy feature, where bawdy humor and childish moralizing sit hand in hand. Paradoxically, these imbalances make the whole affair feel more genuine than most of the sanitized studio content we’ve come to expect.
So while The King’s Daughter may be little more than a blip in the career arcs of its talent, one can understand why executives were unwilling to punt on the film altogether. With a few standout performances and production design that imbues it with a good amount of period shine, it may yet find a receptive audience. The world needs more adult-ish fantasy anyway.