January isn’t really considered a prime month for new movie releases. Often considered the dumping ground of the film calendar, January is when studios are prone to dumping titles that they know are bad and are unlikely to break box office records. You may see a few Oscar contenders getting a wide release here but you’re more often than not going to have your pick of cheap horror films or family-friendly schlock that nobody is particularly enthusiastic to pay for.
This month, on January 21st, we’ll see the release of a particularly curious movie. The King’s Daughter is a fantasy adventure based on a Nebula Award-winning novel by a science-fiction legend. It stars Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, and Fan Bingbing and tells the story of how King Louis XIV’s quest for immortality led him to capture a mermaid. It was shot on location in Versailles. Julie Andrews is narrating it. It all sounds pretty interesting, right? But here’s where things get weird.
The King’s Daughter began shooting in April 2014 and was scheduled for a release the following year. Just three weeks before the film was due for wide release, Paramount canceled without specifying a future release date. A source told The Hollywood Reporter that the delay was due to some SFX issues and nothing more serious than that. But then the years passed and the movie remained on the shelf. In the time it’s gone unreleased, two of the film’s stars, Kaya Scodelario and Benjamin Walker, got married and had two children. In June 2020, Arclight Films acquired The King’s Daughter for distribution, then Gravitas Ventures acquired it in October 2021. Now audiences will get to see it … albeit with zero promotion and in the middle of the omicron variant of COVID ravaging the nation, thus leading several studios to pull their releases once more.
You don’t need me to tell you that it’s not a positive sign when a film goes unreleased for seven years. If your product is good, then you may want to wait a little while to get the best release date or prime it for a run on the festival circuit to drum up hype. You don’t pull it three weeks before its release and pretend it never existed. Once upon a time, there were big hopes for this project. A film adaptation was first planned in 1999 with Jim Henson Pictures attached to bring it to life. You can see what drew them to the novel, Vonda McIntyre’s The Moon and the Sun, a lavishly detailed historical fantasy that won one of sci-fi fiction’s biggest awards over a little book called A Game of Thrones.
The movie was a major financial investment too. In May 2014, it was reported that Kylin Films, a Chinese production company, had put in about half of the movie’s $40.5 million budget. That made it China’s biggest financial contribution to a non-studio movie produced outside of mainland China. On top of that, the production secured what was described as ‘unprecedented access to the Palace of Versailles’ for filming. Paul Currie, one of the movie’s producers, talked up The King’s Daughter (which is a terrible title, by the way) as being a great film for ‘women of all ages’ and pitched it as being ‘somewhere between Twilight and Alice in Wonderland.’ Again, all of this sounds solid. Even if the film sucks — and let’s be honest, it probably does — you could sell this to Netflix and let it find its audience. If Emily in Paris can be a hit, then the world is The King’s Daughter’s oyster.
Given the level of investment put in by Chinese companies, one imagines that Paramount saw this film as a potential smash hit in the country, which has become a key territory for international grosses over the past decade. The presence of Fan Bingbing in one of the main roles strengthens that idea. One of the biggest stars in China in the 2010s, Fan had already been in Hollywood movies like X-Men: Days of Future Past. In 2018, she mysteriously disappeared from public view after being accused of tax evasion. She later re-emerged, apologized to the public, and was ordered to pay over $127 million to avoid prosecution. She hasn’t been seen in a film since. It seems unlikely that The King’s Daughter will receive any kind of major release in mainland China. The same goes for another January release starring Fan, The 355. This obviously doesn’t account for why the film was pulled years before this scandal but it’s another reminder of how, when it comes to these delays, it’s usually one bloody thing after another.
The politics of film distribution are tricky, an endless show of smoke and mirrors where the truth is seldom revealed unless the sh*t has truly hit the fan. Maybe after the movie finally premieres, we’ll get some juicy tell-all on the behind-the-scenes chaos of The King’s Daughter and it will rival the unmitigated disasters of classic bombs like The Bonfire of the Vanities and Winter’s Tale. Mostly, though, I think this will just quietly flop and disappear as though it was never released in the first place. It will be a curiosity thought about only by weirdos like me who spend far too much time wondering about such things. But hey, it’s got a mermaid in it so it can’t be that bad.
The King’s Daughter will be released - finally - on January 21st.
Header Image Source: Gravitas Ventures