It’s not every day that a movie sits dormant for eight years after it was shot, deep in the crevasses of some distribution house’s files, wondering if it will screen or die. The films that do, well, their reputation tends to precede them, and for good reason: They make us curious. We can’t help but pay attention. It was with that attitude that I approached The King’s Daughter, and because of its long road to the screen, I wanted so deeply to like it. However, its haphazard story, mediocre visual effects, downright awful costuming and other cardinal sins made it hard to find anything redeeming about the movie, no matter how many years have passed.
The King’s Daughter tells the story of Louis XIV’s (Pierce Brosnan) efforts to become immortal, which he attempts to do by stealing the lifeforce of a beautiful mermaid (Fan Bingbing). Things become complicated for the French royal when his illegitimate daughter (Kaya Scodelario) discovers the creature and befriends her, while simultaneously falling in love with explorer Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker).
The film’s biggest issue—or, at least, the thing that made it fundamentally impossible to suspend my disbelief within a story that requires it—is that it insists on breaking period conventions in ways that don’t serve. It’s fun to shake it up, but the lazy and completely inaccurate costuming takes away a lot from the work as a whole. You might be wondering why that matters so much, because the aforementioned breaks in period conventions can be good and have worked in many cases. Changing up the costuming in certain ways can be one of those assets, but there’s no consistency in the way costumes were selected for this film. In fact, there’s barely any link to actual historical dress, which would give us some kind of concrete connection to a time period—and in turn, strengthen the fantastical elements. Instead, it makes us question the world the story exists in, and not in a good way. When you have a plot that involves a mermaid and immortality—or pretty much anything that includes sci-fi or fantasy elements—there needs to be something that anchors viewers in the world, no matter what era the story takes place in. There just isn’t any anchor in this movie, and the costuming would have been an easy way to keep it grounded.
Scodelario is a compelling lead actress—as she has continued to prove in the years since this film was originally shot in 2014—but that didn’t do much to help the story, which isn’t very exciting or interesting. But it is messy and hard to follow. The source material, Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1997 novel The Moon and the Sun, is quite different, so it seems screenwriters Barry Berman and James Schamus were interested in taking liberties, but unfortunately, they didn’t improve upon it—especially not when you take into account that Louis XIV tries to ritually murder the mermaid. It’s the first, but certainly not the last, sin committed against Bingbing, who deserves so much better than the card she was dealt in this film.
On the subject of sins, it’s crucial to mention the effects. Bingbing is absolutely butchered into a CGI being, which doesn’t seem like it needed to happen. The Chinese actress has been an icon as long as I can remember and it’s a major disservice. There are a lot of possible logistical excuses for why she’s the only character who has been rendered completely inhuman via CGI, with scheduling and location conflicts being the main ones that come to mind. But whether or not the actress shot her scenes in the same space as her co-stars, there was no reason to essentially recreate her entire face with VFX. It was distracting and immediately took me out of the movie when I didn’t think I could be less willing to suspend my disbelief.
Bringing a film to life isn’t an easy job, and there are a lot of elements that have to come together in order to make it all work, no matter the genre. Plus, once you invest some time in a picture, the desire to get it off the ground grows stronger. It makes sense that the team—who saw their film get pulled from the release schedule shortly before its premiere—would want this movie to have its moment. But as much as The King’s Daughter has been fighting to see the light of day, it would’ve been better for the film to just lie down in defeat, once and for all.
Director: Sean McNamara
Writer: Barry Berman, James Schamus
Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, Fan Bingbing, Benjamin Walker, William Hurt
Release Date: January 21, 2022
Lex Briscuso is an entertainment, film and culture writer who eats, sleeps, and breathes exceptional horror, sweeping dramas, and top-notch acting. She is a news desk writer at /Film and has bylines at FANGORIA, The Guardian, Shudder’s The Bite and EUPHORIA. Her horror radio show, YOUR NICHE IS DEAD, is live Mondays 5pm ET. She tweets @nikonamerica.