Made back in 2014 but only now being dumped in cinemas, this bizarre adaptation of an acclaimed novel is destined to be forgotten
From its title alone, you may be forgiven for thinking that The King’s Daughter is a film about a king’s daughter. It isn’t. It’s about Pierce Brosnan’s berserk quest to achieve immortality by stabbing a mermaid through the heart. True, there is a king in it; and, yes, he does have a daughter. But I have to make this perfectly clear, it’s actually a film about Pierce Brosnan trying to murder a mermaid through the heart.
Clearly, there have been meetings about this. The King’s Daughter is an adaptation of Vonda McIntyre’s 1997 novel The Moon and the Sun; a novel that, it must be said, won the Nebula book award ahead of A Game of Thrones on publication. But you can’t call a film The Moon and the Sun, because people might inadvertently think they’re going to watch a film about the actual moon and the actual sun. My instinct, given the subject matter, would have instead been to call it Pierce Brosnan Stabbing a Mermaid Through the Heart. This is partly because it is a precise description of what happens in the film, but mainly because who wouldn’t want to watch a film called Pierce Brosnan Stabbing a Mermaid Through the Heart? Only the very worst kind of idiot, that’s who.
But no. They went with The King’s Daughter, because one of the characters is the king’s daughter. That’s it. That’s the only reason. It’s like renaming Planet of the Apes as Charlton Heston’s Shipmate, or The Terminator as A Nice Leather Jacket. It’s pointless.
I have a theory about films. The blander a movie’s title, the more it has probably been messed around with in production. Tom Cruise once made a film with the (excellent) working title of All You Need is Kill, but upon release its name was changed to Edge of Tomorrow which – just to give you an idea of its impossible blandness – is literally taken from the lyrics of the Saved by the Bell: The College Years theme tune. Remember Snakes on a Plane? That film was nearly released as Pacific Air Flight 121, which is arguably the dullest combination of words and letters in all of history.
So, judging by its title, you might think that The King’s Daughter has had a similarly troubled production. And boy, has it ever. The film spent 15 years trying to get off the ground under various studios with various directors. It was finally made in 2014 with director Sean McNamara, but then – just three weeks before its original release date in April 2015 – Paramount pulled the film from its schedules without explanation. In short, this movie has sat on a shelf for the best part of a decade. It isn’t cinema, it’s a historical artefact.
You can see how long The King’s Daughter has been sitting in storage just by its cast. Pierce Brosnan has long since adopted the look of a sexy silver Colonel Sanders, but here he’s still in the midst of his brunette pomp. Fan Bingbing, who plays the mermaid, has had her entire career blown up by a tax evasion scandal since shooting wrapped. Kaya Scodelario, who plays the king’s daughter, fell in love with co-star Benjamin Walker on the film’s set. They have since married and had two children together.
Now, obviously, the uncertainty surrounding this film must have been galling for all involved. Vonda McIntyre didn’t sign over the rights to her book thinking that it would dissolve into such a mess. The actors didn’t want to make a film that nobody would see. Sean McNamara has remained prolific throughout, directing films such as Aliens Ate My Homework and Baby Geniuses and the Space Baby, but the whole affair must have left a mark on him.
The worst thing is that The King’s Daughter isn’t even that bad. Again, I should be clear, it isn’t good. It’s the sort of film where, one hour into a movie that is entitled The King’s Daughter (and 58 minutes after the narrator has introduced the king’s daughter by calling her “the king’s daughter”), the king’s daughter reacts to news that she is the king’s daughter with palpable “who could have possibly seen this coming?” Sixth Sense twist-level shock. But, still, it isn’t that bad.
The King’s Daughter is set in Versailles, and it was shot there too, so it intermittently looks very beautiful. Everyone in the cast is impossibly attractive. Brosnan plays Louis XIV as a sort of mid-70s Jagger, which is a lot of fun. This isn’t a film that’s totally without merit. And yet events have conspired against it, and it is destined to be quickly forgotten. But ask yourself this: would that still be the case if they had chosen to call it Pierce Brosnan Stabbing a Mermaid Through the Heart? Thought not.