Shelved just weeks before its release in 2015, The King’s Daughter is a historical sci-fi romance starring Pierce Brosnan – and it seems to have disappeared.
In The King’s Daughter, Louis XIV of France is on a quest for immortality. Played by Pierce Brosnan, the Sun King has captured a mermaid (Fan Bingbing) and plans to steal its life force for himself, but matters are complicated by the intervention of one of his illegitimate daughters, Marie-Josèphe, (Kaya Scodelario) who has recently arrived at Versailles.
If this isn’t ringing a bell, it’s because the film hasn’t yet been released. Based on Vonda N. McIntyre’s alternate history novel The Moon And The Sun, the film was shot in 2014 and pencilled in for an April 2015 release, but was pulled from Paramount’s schedule in March that year. The battle to bring the book to the screen goes back more than 20 years, but now that the film is finished, it’s sitting on a shelf somewhere.
The initial reason given for the film being pulled was that it still needed additional visual effects. Since then, the title has been changed to The King’s Daughter (confusingly enough, it shares this title with another young-adult historical novel, written in 1974 by Suzanne Martel) and we’ve heard occasional rumblings of a new release date, but it’s yet to see the light of day.
A plot-heavy teaser trailer has been released and you can take a look at that below before we get into the story behind this mysteriously unreleased production…
McIntyre originally wrote The Moon And The Sun to be a screenplay in 1994, but after meeting with producers as varied as Danny DeVito, Steven Spielberg, and Oliver Stone, she realised it was considered too expensive to produce. So instead, she adapted it into a novel, which famously beat George R.R. Martin’s A Game Of Thrones to the 1997 Nebula Award.
With new award-winning pedigree, the book caught Hollywood’s attention again. The project was set up at Jim Henson Pictures by producer Michael London, who felt the company was ideal to bring the contrast of fantasy and historical genres to life. Writers Laura Harrington and Christopher Renshaw got to work on the script, with the latter, a well-known theatre director, set to make his debut feature.
However, Henson was set up as a joint venture with Sony Pictures, and the studio parted ways with the company after a string of box office disappointments like Muppets From Space and The Adventures Of Elmo In Grouchland. At this point, producer Bill Mechanic, who had just left a successful run at 20th Century Fox and set up his own company Pandemonium Films, also took an interest in the project.
Mechanic had been CEO at Fox during the late 1990s and oversaw mega-hits such as Titanic, Dr Dolittle, and Moulin Rouge, but by the time he left the studio in 2001, he’d reportedly fallen out of favour with the higher-ups for investing in riskier films like Titan A.E. and Fight Club. As part of an exclusive five-year deal struck in December 2001, he brought The Moon And The Sun over to Disney, with Henson still producing.
Pre-production was expected to begin in early 2002, with Natalie Portman in line to star as Marie-Josèphe. Oscar-nominated screenwriter James Schamus, a frequent collaborator of Ang Lee’s, was hired to rewrite the script, while Gregory Hoblit (remember him?) was in line to direct, but Disney didn’t wind up greenlighting the project.
Instead, Mechanic spent another decade trying to get the film made in the mid-budget range. As the producer saw it, according to a 2014 interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, “Titanic bifurcated the market: you can make a movie that’s $200 million, or you can make a movie that costs nothing. What you can’t do is make a movie in between.”
What eventually got the project moving was Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, a film that benefited from film production tax rebates in Australia and still looked convincingly like 1930s New York. This convinced Mechanic that it would be possible to recreate 17th-century France without breaking the bank, with just a spot of location shooting in Versailles.
With a reported budget of $40 million, The Moon And The Sun was eventually filmed outside of the studio system. A significant chunk of that budget came from China’s Kylin Films, whose $20.5m investment represents the biggest Chinese financial contribution to an independent movie produced outside mainland China. A further $3m came from another Chinese investor, Evergrande Pictures.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film has a lot of the same crew that made Gatsby, including Oscar-winning costume designer Lizzy Gardiner. Furthermore, the film is directed by Sean McNamara, whose eclectic filmography included several productions with Mechanic during his time at Disney’s TV division, and stars Brosnan, Scodelario, and Fan. Bill Nighy was originally set to play the supporting role of Père La Chaise, a character created for the movie, but was replaced by William Hurt due to a scheduling conflict.
During location shooting in April 2014, the production enjoyed unprecedented access to the Palace of Versailles. The film was pitched somewhere between Twilight and Alice In Wonderland, which management believed would attract younger tourists to the Palace if it were featured in the film. As a result, one of the film’s main set-pieces is an elaborate dance sequence set in Versailles’ famous Hall of Mirrors.
Shooting resumed in Melbourne and wrapped up in May. Much of the post-production publicity has focused on Brosnan’s role as Louis XIV, giving us quite an extensive insight into this somewhat unlikely casting.
Brosnan told Australia’s News.com: “My Louis is Jim Morrison meets Alexander McQueen meets Tom Ford, in the costume department. With a magnificent wig, a great-looking horse and lots of attitude. He certainly was the rock star of his time.
“His is a grand vanity: he wants to live on forever so he can eat, fornicate and go to war… This guy is the king of all kings.”
For those of us who have cherished some of Brosnan’s odder post-Bond choices, there’s a lot of promise there, and in the various glimpses of the production we’ve seen so far. So, why haven’t we seen the finished film yet?
Paramount picked up the US rights to The Moon And The Sun and set a release date of 10th April 2015. Then, just three weeks before that date arrived, the studio pulled the film from its schedule. Reportedly, test audiences didn’t like the visual effects used to create Fan’s mermaid and the delay was intended to fix this.
The title was officially changed to The King’s Daughter in 2016. Some sources reported a new release date of 7th October that year, but this came and went with no sign of the film. Just over three years later, that teaser trailer was released, with no more clarification over the film’s release than a closing “Coming Soon” title card. It’s unclear whether the new special effects work has been completed, but whether the mermaid in the trailer has been reanimated or not, we might speculate that the casting might have presented more of an issue.
Fan Bingbing was already a superstar in China and had also appeared in Hollywood superhero flicks Iron Man 3 and X-Men: Days Of Future Past before she was cast in The King’s Daughter. However, in 2018, China’s highest-paid female star was charged with tax evasion and secretly detained by the government for three months in 2018, a scandal which has considerably dented her popularity.
We’ve already seen this controversy affect other productions starring Fan. The actor was found to have declared only a third of her salary on the Bruce Willis action movie Air Strike, which prompted the cancellation of its Chinese release. Likewise, the Hollywood production 355, a female-led ensemble spy movie masterminded by Jessica Chastain and starring Fan, had to seek new financing after the movie’s Chinese distributors pulled out of releasing it. That film is now slated to arrive next January and will be the star’s first released film since the scandal broke.
Whatever issues the film had before this, it’s possible that a release is still being held up by the prospect of missing out on a cinematic run in China. Given the increasing focus on a global market in Hollywood filmmaking, this had to be a selling point in Paramount picking up the film in the first place.
It remains to be seen if and how The King’s Daughter will eventually come to our screens, but it’s noteworthy that Paramount has form for selling mid-range films to streaming services after their cinematic releases have been cancelled. It might be worth keeping an eye on Netflix for the film, especially if it’s as wild as Brosnan says.
“It’s not a historically on-the-nose rendition, it’s a fantasy fable,” he enthused. “So, it allows one a lot of leeway to make an impressionistic gesture at the whole court of Louis. And, by heavens, we’ve pulled it off, I think.”
One day, we might find out…
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