BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Disney Studios has set a high standard when it comes to creating live-action productions with fairytale elements. The new release, “The King’s Daughter,” is not a Disney release and has a few problems but it equals any film from that company in regards to casting, acting, production design and setting.
“The King’s Daughter” – released by Gravitas Ventures – is so good that it should make those working in the genre for Disney a little nervous.
The film, based on Vonda N. McIntyre’s novel The Moon and the Sun, looks at a strained relationship between the Sun King, Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan), and his illegitimate daughter Marie-Josèphe (Kaya Scodelario). The pair are reunited for a grand event scheduled to be held in the breathtaking palace of Versailles.
This should have been a happy reunion but the King has a dark plan for the ceremony that includes the capture and murder of a mermaid (Fan Bingbing). He also is ready to use his daughter as a pawn in his political moves.
All of this sets up numerous storylines of faith, love, devotion, respect and power examined by Barry Berman and James Schamus who adapted the book. There are a lot of moving parts but they work together to create the touching tale. The story is predictable at times but by design, a fairytale is meant to lead to a happy ending.
Director Sean McNamara has put together a cast strong enough to help make the predictable work. It is immediately obvious this is a film that rivals any massive-budget production with the opening narration by Julie Andrews. Her melodic voice has such sweet maternal tones seasoned with a dash of fairy godmother elements that she could read the recipes on a package of cereal and make it seem magical. Andrews establishes from the first frames this is a movie to be considered in higher regards.
The captivating casting continues with Brosnan taking on the role of Louis XIV. He gives the character both a degree of pompousness while also allowing small touches of vulnerability come through. Had he not found the right balance, the character would have either come across a comical or completely unlikable.
Some of his best scenes are with William Hurt who plays the King’s spiritual advisor, Père La Chaise. Having Hurt – as with Brosnan and Andrews – in the cast provides an automatic lift. It is not the simple fact he is part of the cast that makes Hurt so important but it is also how he gives the film a feeling of depth and importance.
“The King’s Daughter” could have worked simply as a love story. Having Hurt’s character discuss topics as heady as how important the soul is to who we are and the importance of all life are a major bonus.
Kaya Scodelario does not bring the same acting background as her co-stars but she is equal to the challenge. It is important in a film with a fairytale format to make sure the central figure is strong enough to be her own champion but have enough emotional openings that she can use the support of others.
If your focus is the romantic elements of “The King’s Daughter” then the relationship between Scodelario’s character and the role played by Benjamin Walker will be satisfying. He portrays the sailor who is forced to capture the mermaid for the King’s self-serving plans but eventually picks love over self-preservation.
The couple have a nice chemistry that is a must for such sweet tales of romance.
Adding to the already impressive elements are the costume design and art direction for “The King’s Daughter.” There may be fashion historians who suggest the costuming in the film is not 100% correct. If that is the case, the designs are still stunning and appear to reflect the look of the period as seen through a beautiful modern prism.
The last –and most amazing – piece of this production is the setting. Much of the movie was shot on the actual grounds of Versailles and that gives the production both a great feel of authenticity and grandeur. No Hollywood set will ever come close to the stunning look of the French palace.
Among the film’s weaknesses are some iffy special effects. They don’t hurt the movie but certainly aren’t a plus.
The Disney Studios have set a high standard for this kind of movie. But, “The King’s Daughter” proves that the company does not have a lock on strong offerings in the genre.
Movie review: The King’s Daughter – 3 stars
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, Benjamin Walker, Rachel Griffiths, William Hurt, Fan Bingbing, Julie Andrews. Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Gabriel Basso, Bo Hopkins, Sunny Mabry.
Director: Sean McNamara
Rated: PG for violence, suggestive material
Running time: 91 minutes.