“The King’s Daughter,” a lush and lavish period piece based on the Nebula Award-inning novel “The Moon and the Sun,” is a film with its own history. You don’t have to have ever heard anything about the production to get a sense of that. There’s too much money evident on the screen for this picture to arrive almost unannounced in the wasteland of January movie releases.
It features stunning locations and production values, provided by some of the artisans who made “The Great Gatsby.” The director is best-known for the sweet and moving “Soul Surfer,” the lead screenwriter won an Oscar for co-writing “Rain Man.” “Daughter” was partly filmed at Versailles, with Pierce Brosnan as “The Sun King,” Louis XIV, who made the palace the gaudy showplace it is today. It co-stars Oscar winner William Hurt with Kaya Scodelario (“”Crawl” and the last “Resident Evil” movie) in the title role. Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing is also here, and the fairytale-like fantasy is narrated by another Oscar winner, Julie Andrews.
But “King’s Daughter” was finished, more or less, in 2014. Here’s a link to a story that sums up the film’s unusual, but far from unique, tortured path to the big screen. Do we hold that against it? We do not. It’s not half-bad.
“King” is worth the price of admission just to see the ex-James Bond swanning around the Hall of Mirrors in glorious wig and the stylish raiment of Louis XIV and his trend-setting court.
It’s a fairytale about the Sun King’s search for immortality, a mermaid (Bingbing) and a spirited, spunky illegitimate daughter raised in a convent, a cellist of some talent who has no idea who her father is, even when he summons her to musically enliven his court.
There’s a cruel, favor-currying court physician (Pablo Schreiber, excellent), a patient palace padre (Hurt, good) and a dashing pirate captain (Benjamin Walker) blackmailed into taking the job of fetching a siren of the sea to spare “the longest reigning monarch in history” the inconvenience of death.
The “daughter” must fend off an arranged suitor (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), the callous doctor and the vain king’s blasphemous desire to live forever in an attempt to save the mermaid, who wordlessly calls out to her, one musician to another.
The mermaid effects, credited in part as one reason Paramount never released this film, more than pass muster in this version. The performances are never less than adequate, with flashes of wit — Brosnan and Hurt as Louis and his priest/confidante sharing “confession” on the foot of his scandalized bed — and heart.
Yes, some engaging angles to the story are under-developed. Rachel Griffiths lends some spark to the daughter-in-the-convent scenes as the prettiest Mother Superior ever, the whole “music” tie between the cellist/would-be composer and mermaid thing never gets its due and the palace intrigues have a seriously low stakes feel.
The mermaid is the orca in this version of “Free Willy.”
Even the countdown to a solar eclipse, this story’s Big Metaphor for the Sun King and “ticking clock” element, leaves a lot to be desired. “Daughter” is not quite camp, never quite as “magical” as you’d hope.
“Lost” or “abandoned” film, there’s barely a hint of anything “commercial” about this, with its Chinese investors despairing over a tax-evasion scandal involving the big Chinese name in the cast.
But it’s gorgeous, with a spirited fight scene or two. And there’s just enough fun spinning around Louis, “a light cast for all France,” the always-plucky Scodelario’s feisty turn and the “forget princes, the ladies always fall for pirates” presence of Walker for “King’s Daughter” to merit a look.
Rating: PG for some (gun) violence, suggestive material and thematic elements
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, William Hurt, Fan Binbing, Benjamin Walker, Pablo Schreiber, Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Rachel Griffiths, narrated by Julie Andrews.
Credits: Directed by Sean McNamara, scripted by Ronald Bass, Laura Harrington and Barry Berman, based on the novel “The Moon and the Sun” by Vonda N. McIntyre. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:3