The King's Daughter has had a very long road to the screen. The movie was shot all the way back in 2014 under the title The Moon and the Sun. Just three weeks before the scheduled April 2015 release date, Paramount Pictures pulled it off their slate, ostensibly because the visual effects weren't done. The studio eventually backed out altogether. By the time it popped up at the Cannes marketplace in 2020, the title had changed and Julie Andrews had been brought in to provide narration. A new distributor bought the film, and seven years later it's finally coming to a theater near you.
It should have been delayed an additional seven years.
Pierce Brosnan, wearing a ridiculous wig, plays King Louis XIV. Desperate to hold on to power, he hatches a scheme to kidnap a mermaid and steal her life force, thereby giving him virtual immortality. That plan is complicated significantly by the arrival of his illegitimate daughter, Marie-Josephe (Crawl's Kaya Scodelario). She finds out that he's captured the mermaid (played by Fan Bingbing) and even befriends the mystical creature. The deed has to be done during an upcoming solar eclipse, so King Louis has to find a way to either get Marie-Josephe on board with his plan or get her out of the way.
Of course, there's a completely pointless subplot involving Marie-Josephe's relationship with Yves (Benjamin Walker), a seaman Louis forces to detain the mermaid. It's always easier to save a prisoner when you're flirting with the guard. William Hurt is here, too, playing the king's spiritual advisor, Pere La Chaise. He grows to have reservations about the whole plan, believing his friend to be making decisions that belong in God's hands, not man's.
Let's back up to that Julie Andrews tidbit for a second. Although prominently billed in the advertising, she never appears onscreen. The veteran actress is here solely to narrate. And the reason why she narrates is pretty obvious. The King's Daughter plays as though it might have been longer at one point. Temperaments of characters change for no reason, events occur with little or no set-up, ideas are introduced but never developed, and so on. Andrews was seemingly brought in to provide exposition that would fill in the gaps where stuff was cut out. If I'm wrong about a longer version, then the only other plausible explanation is that she was brought in to explain bad writing. Either way, she's here to glue this mess together.
The King's Daughter barely has a story. There's a scenario, yet no real development of any elements of that scenario. The movie lurches from one scene to the next, never building any suspense, drama, romance, or pathos. Look no further than the mermaid for proof. She's been yanked away from her home and family, locked in a tank so that some fool can steal her magical properties. Despite that, her function is to help Marie-Josephe come to terms with her own problems, like the circumstances that led her to grow up in a convent.
In the similarly-themed The Shape of Water, we care about the captured aquatic creature and build a rooting interest in his escape. He's developed as a character and placed in a plot that makes his well-being a central concern. Here, the mermaid is a mere device – rendered via cheap-looking visual effects – with no personality. No reason to empathize with her is given. We just know that Marie-Josephe is surrounded by a magic-y feeling every time she inexplicably hops in the water with her.
The King's Daughter is a colossal misfire, filled with one-dimensional characters, a disjointed plot, and unconvincing performances. Really, the only thing working in its favor is that director Sean McNamara (Soul Surfer) was able to shoot in and around the actual Palace of Versailles. Then again, that grand, opulent location only serves to accentuate what a shoddy movie this is.
out of four
The King's Daughter is rated PG for some violence, suggestive material and thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.