Part history, part fantasy, ‘The King’s Daughter’ dwells where nonsense reigns

Pierce Brosnan camps it up as a macho Louis XIV conspiring to steal a mermaid’s immortality.

SHARE Part history, part fantasy, ‘The King’s Daughter’ dwells where nonsense reigns
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Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan) summons Marie-Josèphe (Kaya Scodelario) to his palace and reveals he’s her father in “The King’s Daughter.”

Gravitas Ventures

The story behind the making of the offbeat and lush but often ludicrous historical fantasy adventure “The King’s Daughter” might be more fascinating than the movie itself, which has its moments of campy delights but is eventually sunk by the meandering story, some over-the-top performances and underwhelming special effects.

‘The King’s Daughter’

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Gravitas Ventures presents a film directed by Sean McNamara and written by Barry Berman and James Schamus, based on the novel “The Moon and the Sun” by Vonda N. McIntyre. Rated PG (for some violence, suggestive material and thematic elements). Running time: 97 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.

We’ll get to all that in a moment. First, a highly condensed capsule summary of this long-delayed project. In 1997, Vonda N. McIntyre’s Louis XIV alt-history novel won the Nebula Award as the best sci-fi/fantasy book of the year, besting nominees that included George R.R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones.” Ever since the late 1990s, there have been numerous efforts to adapt the novel to the big screen, with names such as Daniel Radcliffe and Natalie Portman attached to various versions, but it wasn’t until 2014 when filming finally commenced, with Sean McNamara (“Soul Surfer”) directing.

The cast included Pierce Brosnan as the long-haired, macho, hedonistic King Louis XIV of France; William Hurt as the king’s confidante and spiritual advisor Pere La Chaise; Kaya Scodelario as Marie-Josèphe, a talented musician who was raised in a convent but has been summoned to the palace and learns she’s the king’s daughter, and Fan Bingbing as a mermaid who has been captured at sea and is being held until the solar eclipse, at which point she’ll be killed and the king will magically soak up her powers and become immortal.

“The King’s Daughter” was set for a 2015 release but was yanked from the schedule just a few weeks before its premiere date and has languished in Movie Purgatory — until now. Alas, despite the star power of the cast and some striking location shoots at the Palace of Versailles and Melbourne, Australia, this is a strange and uneven film that never quite finds its footing and fumbles to strike the right tone. It careens all over the place, from swashbuckling adventure to mystical fantasy to lavish period piece — and winds up as a bland stew filled with predictable and mismatched ingredients.

But hey, it IS a kick to see Pierce Brosnan in a ridiculous wig that makes him look like a middle-aged guitarist at Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, eschewing the Sun King’s foppish fashions and overall, you know, Frenchness, in favor of a decidedly modern-sounding, British-accented, physically imposing Louis XIV who beds a different woman every night (that part is historically accurate), confesses his sins to Pere La Chase in the morning and returns to the business of being all kingly in public while he secretly conspires with the evil Dr. Labarthe (Pablo Schreiber), a madman who convinces the king that the mermaid’s life force can be seized and will grant the king immortality.

As Julie Andrews narrates, Marie-Josèphe discovers she can magically communicate with the mermaid — it’s a musical thing — and strikes up a bond with the creature, who is much closer to human than her father and Dr. Labarthe would have you believe. We also get the obligatory Arranged Marriage to the Insufferable Wealthy Duke (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), as the king’s coffers are depleted, and he needs his daughter to wed this fool so they can have access to the duke’s father’s fortune. Ah, but wouldn’t you know it, there’s also a dashing seaman, one Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker), who becomes sympathetic to the mermaid’s plight — especially after he falls for Marie-Josèphe — and promises to help the king’s daughter defy her father and orchestrate an elaborate and death-defying escape.

“The King’s Daughter” has some impressively staged set pieces, but there are times when you can practically see the green screen leaking from the background shots. As for the mermaid sequences … not great. Fan Bingbing is wrapped in some sort of motion-capture-looking effect that makes her appear almost animated, and the underwater photography is murkier than it needs to be and features some splashes of putatively dazzling and colorful magic that seem more suited to a 1980s film than 21st century production.

Most everyone in the cast goes big and plays to the rafters, adding further to the cartoonish vibe of the film. To be sure, Brosnan and Hurt have some fun together as two powerful and world-weary cynics who aren’t yet beyond redemption but are skirting close to the edge — but nothing that transpires in the final, admittedly well-filmed series of events is particularly surprising or thrilling. There might indeed be a fine movie lurking within the pages of that original source material, but “The King’s Daughter” is not that movie.

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