Can We Talk About This Unexpected Vonda McIntyre Mermaid Movie for a Minute?

I only watched the trailer for The King’s Daughter because Gavia Whitelaw-Baker mentioned two key details about it on Twitter: One, it’s a mermaid movie, not that you’d have the foggiest idea of that from the title. And two, it was filmed seven years ago. Maybe that explains why it looks like an unofficial Pirates of the Caribbean spinoff?

Only when I began to try to understand the backstory of this baffling film did I discover that it is, in fact, an adaptation of Vonda N. McIntyre’s Nebula Award-winning 1997 novel The Moon and the Sun.

Until recently, the movie was going to keep the novel’s title; all the Australian news from around the shoot calls it The Moon and the Sun, and so do the reports about it being abruptly pulled from Paramount’s release schedule weeks before its original 2015 release date. The name change came sometime before 2020, when Julie Andrews joined the film as narrator. By then, Paramount was out of the picture, and the film had moved to Arclight. Two months ago, Gravitas Ventures picked it up for distribution and set a release date of January 21st, 2022.

This is not exactly an auspicious series of events. The trailer is full of odd musical cues and a lot of things that seem as if they are meant to be very very grand when they in fact appear more low-budget costume drama. There is also at least one considerable change from the book: In McIntyre’s novel, the creatures are sea monsters. Here, they are slender and traditionally attractive mermaids. Because movies, I guess. (We’re noticing that the only POC in this trailer is the literally non-human character, right? We’re definitely noticing that.)

The film’s summary is extremely short:

King Louis XIV’s quest for immortality leads him to capture and steal a mermaid’s life force, a move that is further complicated by his illegitimate daughter’s discovery of the creature.

The King’s Daughter stars Pierce Brosnan as Louis; William Hurt as Pere La Chaise (a role that originally went to Bill Nighy, and I will always be a little sad Bill Nighy isn’t in this film); Kaya Scodelario (who is actually in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) as Marie-Josephe D’Alember; Bingbing Fan (X-Men: Days of Future Past) credited as simply “Mermaid”; and Pablo Schreiber and Rachel Griffiths are in there too.

Director Sean McNamara’s resume includes the Bratz movie, the Baby Geniuses TV series, and two Sister Swap films that came out this year. Four writers are credited on IMDb: Ronald Bass, who wrote ’90s movies ranging from What Dreams May Come to How Stella Got Her Groove Back; Barry Berman (Benny & Joon); Laura Harrington (who appeared in two episodes of Quantum Leap); and James Schamus (who has done a lot of interesting work, including adapting The Ice Storm, and is credited with the story on Ang Lee’s Hulk movie).

This is a lot to take in, so give yourself a minute. And consider one last detail: The Moon and the Sun beat A Game of Thrones to win that Nebula Award.

The King’s Daughter will—barring any more dramatic changes—be in theaters next month. Will you join Marie-Josephe to visit what a sour-faced nun calls “a lavish and glimmering hell”?

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