Film Review: The King’s Daughter
The King’s Daughter
Director: Sean McNamara
Bliss Media and Brookwell McNamara Entertainment
In Theaters 01.21
The difference between a message movie and propaganda is whether or not you agree with what the film has to say. In December, Don’t Look Up made a point about climate change and the dangers of ignoring scientific facts through science fiction, comedy and star power, but certainly not with subtlety. Now, almost exactly a month later, The King’s Daughter uses almost all of the same tools—substituting fantasy for science fiction and romance for comedy—to make a movie that vilifies science and presents it as an affront to God.
The King’s Daughter tells the story of Marie-Josèphe (Kaya Scodelario, Crawl), who grew up in a convent raised by nuns but whose musical skill catches the attention of King Louis XIV of France (Pierce Brosnan), who is looking for a new composer to play outside his window. There’s certainly not any other reason that the King wants her there, and even if there was, it definitely wouldn’t have anything whatsoever to do with the title—I haven’t the faintest idea why you would think that. This is a spoiler free review, after all.
Louis XIV has more to deal with than music, however: A sea Captain, Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) has captured a mermaid who possesses magical healing powers and quite possibly the key to immortality. The King’s spiritual advisor, Père La Chaise (William Hurt), and the royal physician, Dr. Labarthe (Pablo Schreiber) have differing views on the mermaid, with the humble man of God believing that the mermaid’s life is sacred while the scientist views her as merely a fetus—I mean, creature. Yes, that’s the code word they use—and that killing her in the name of science and the common good is justifiable, and if he has to defy God and maybe kick a few puppies, so much the better. But in her free time, when she’s not composing music or basking in ignorance on her parentage, Marie-Josèphe starts to spend time with both Yves and the mermaid, developing a love for them both.
Director Sean McNamara (Soul Surfer, Mighty Oak and the upcoming Reagan biopic starring Dennis Quaid) is working with a budget that is far bigger than McNamara normally gets, and the production values are really quite splendid. Still, there’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen a dozen times before. Whether it’s the CGI mermaid that has been copied from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire or the musical score that deviates from Pirates of the Caribbean just enough to probably avoid a lawsuit, or even Brosnan’s wig which was probably used in The Man in The Iron Mask after it had been found on the side of the road and confirmed to be dead, everything you see and hear is secondhand, including the performances.
Brosnan and Scodelario are committed if not memorable, and Hurt lends a certain presence. Schreiber (13 Hours, Orange is the New Black) comes off as a one-note sniveling villain, but it’s not his fault. The screenplay—credited to Barry Berman (Benny & Joon) and James Schamus (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), but was supposedly heavily doctored by producer Bill Mechanic—is so consumed with its thinly disguised anti-choice and anti-science subtext that the story becomes too muddled, and it certainly bares no resemblance to The Sun and The Moon, the celebrated book by Vonda N. MacIntire (a scientist), upon which it was originally based. But perhaps the most ill-conceived aspect of the politicized agenda of the film is combining constant, heavy-handed references to a divine God trumping science in a story that takes place in a world where mermaids exist, unintentionally putting it in “well, if Santa Claus isn’t real, what about Jesus?” territory, which officially makes it problematic on every single level.
The King’s Daughter is enjoyable enough when it’s focused on being frivolous entertainment but insufferable when it’s getting lost in its heavy-handed political diatribe. It’s better than the average movie aimed at the religious right niche market, but that is such faint praise that it’s barely worth even mentioning. –Patrick Gibbs
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