PLOT A young woman must rescue a mermaid from the palace of King Louis XIV.
CAST Kaya Scodelario, Pierce Brosnan, William Hurt
RATED PG (some mild innuendo)
WHERE Area theaters.
BOTTOM LINE A generic combination of royal-themed fairy tale and magical fantasy.
In "The King’s Daughter," Kaya Scodelario plays Marie-Josèphe D’Alember, a young woman raised in a convent. Headstrong and rebellious, but musically gifted, she is one day whisked away to Versailles to compose a new piece for King Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan). There’s little mystery about their relationship — see the film’s title — but there is a twist to this story in the form of a captive mermaid who must be rescued from a terrible fate.
It’s all awfully familiar: The vaguest outlines of "The Princess Diaries," a little something from "The Sound of Music" (in fact, our narrator is Julie Andrews) and a magical creature for good measure. You might chalk up all the borrowed material to a lack of originality, but I suspect it’s intentional. "The King’s Daughter" feels like the kind of movie we’re going to see a lot more of: basically, a checklist of search terms, designed to pop up in your "recommendations" after you’ve exhausted all of your old favorites.
Very young viewers may not mind. Scodelario, a veteran of YA movies ("The Maze Runner" franchise), makes for a serviceable princess-in-commoner’s clothing, even if her love interest, the sailor Yves De La Croix (Benjamin Walker, her real-life spouse), is little more than a longhaired cutie in a leather vest. (The stylized costumes are generally unconvincing, less Ancien Régime than Early MTV.) As for that mermaid, played by Fan Bingbing, she has been altered by CGI into a stiff, dead-eyed creature — ironic, since she supposedly holds the key to eternal life.
Here and there, though, "The King’s Daughter" will suddenly strive for period authenticity and a sense of complexity. (The screenplay is by Barry Berman, of "Benny & Joon," and James Schamus, of "Brokeback Mountain," from a novel by Vonda N. McIntyre.) There are nods to actual events, such as France’s nearing bankruptcy, and several smart scenes between Brosnan as the rather louche Sun King and a wry William Hurt as his confessor, Père La Chaise (surely inspired by the Jesuit priest whose name graces the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris). What’s more, director Sean McNamara ("Soul Surfer") filmed on location in Versailles, which means those lavish gardens, vast courtyards and dizzying ballrooms are the real deal.
If this movie had given into its better instincts and higher aspirations, it might have risen above its station. Instead, "The King’s Daughter" seems perfectly willing to satisfy the least demanding viewers.