When the coronavirus pandemic hit, studios quickly scrambled to cancel or postpone the theatrical releases of their highest profile titles. But with Sean McNamara’s The King’s Daughter, an adaptation of Vonda McIntyre’s The Moon and the Sun, the pandemic wasn’t the first thing to push back its release date. It was postponed seven times, shot in the middle of 2013 and set to drop in 2014, then put on the shelf because of visual effect issues. It should’ve stayed there longer.
The film introduces us to the glamorous world of King Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan), a bratty ruler who saunters around his castle in a black robe and floppy wig. When he gets word of a lost daughter, locked away in some Parisian convent, he and his servant Yves (Benjamin Walker) set out to find her. The story is a sort of riff on The Princess Diaries. There have been many attempts to recapture the Princess magic (and romance) but The King’s Daughter doesn’t have the required charm or spontaneity, chivalry or wit, craft or structure.
There’s none of Garry Marshall’s patented pizazz as Marie (Kaya Scodelario) is thrust into the world of royalty, kings, queens and castles. She’s a Pygmalion figure without a personality, surrounded by people without a sense of humor. As she goes through the princess motions, Marie plays music for the king, falls in love with Yves, gets married to a Duke and stumbles upon a mermaid. Yes, a mermaid–from the lost city of Atlantis, no less. King Louis intends to murder it during a solar eclipse, which apparently will give him the gift of immortality, because why not? Meanwhile, Marie tries to save the mermaid from her cage and vies to run off with Yves, Prince Harry-style.
There are too many scenes, high jinks, antics and escapades, and it all starts to feel rather cluttered, with little inclusion of filler or transition. It’s so manic at times that you can’t even follow what is happening. The most memorable scene is a waltz through Versailles that gives Marie a second to relax, to take in the rosy fields and misty flowers. But then the film goes back to hopping from place to place at pinball speeds.
How are we supposed to keep up? Brosnan pulled off the king thing better in last year’s Cinderella, but McNamara’s story lacks the coherence of even the Disney reboot. While The King’s Daughter wants to remind you of other fish out of water fables, Diaries most obviously, it’s just a reminder that Marshall’s film has vastly more cinematic splendor, with emotional beats that feel earned and sets that feel lived in, not digitally altered. McNamara’s film should have remained behind bars.