The Marsh King’s Daughter
November 2nd, 2023
MOVIE: THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER
STARRING: DAISY RIDLEY, BEN MENDELSOHN, BROOKLYNN PRINCE, GARRETT HEDLUND, GIL BIRMINGHAM, CAREN PISTRORIUS
DIRECTED BY: NEIL BURGER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 1 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Outside of the Star Wars trilogy, we still don’t know much about Daisy Ridley as an actor, but moving beyond the lightsaber can be a difficult task. The Marsh King’s Daughter is not the right step, but that’s not entirely Ridley’s fault. Director Neil Burger attempts to bring Karen Dionne’s book to life, in a throwback thriller, about a girl raised in the woods, living in a cabin, with her difficult mother and her survivalist father. What is discovered later on is that her father is actually her mother’s captor, a dangerous person, and now she must move on from loving someone she believed was her protector. It might make for a better book but The Marsh King’s Daughter is a stiff and stuffy thriller, lacking in a tighter script, and any true energy to dig itself out of the mud.
It starts with young Helena (first played by The Florida Project star Brooklynn Prince), walking along the woods with her father Jacob (Ben Mendelsohn), approaching a deer in the distance. He’s teaching her the way of the hunt, while her frustrated mother (Caren Pistorius) would prefer she did her chores in the house. The truth is that Jacob kidnapped her mother, with Helena the child of her mother’s rapist, and when she’s taken away, the life she has known has been made a lie. She moves on, grows into Daisy Ridley, becomes married to Stephen (played by Garrett Hedlund), and they have a child of their own. But eventually, the man that raised her will come back and the past that Helena has been trying to escape will come knocking on her front door.
Similar to 2022s Where the Crawdad Sings, The Marsh King’s Daughter sits under the banner of pulpy novels, airport books, or something you see a person reading on the beach. It attempts to reel you in with family intrigue, a true crime mystery, and a hopefully exciting conclusion. There may be some of that in the book, but it’s not transferring here, as the script from Elle and Mark L. Smith has no propulsion, often oscillating between Helena having bad dreams, characters such as Gil Birmingham’s wise surrogate father lettering her knowing that her father can never get to her when of course we know he eventually will. It becomes tedious and often contrived.
As far as performances go, Ridley shows flashes of her skills, but she also struggles with the clunky dialogue, along with trying to hold back her British accent. Mendelsohn seems to be going through the motions, allowing the slobbish look of his character to do the lifting, an appearance that constantly tells us, this guy is bad news. That also makes you wonder why his daughter couldn’t entirely see that he was not a good dude. Burger attempts to mask those moments with Helena when she was young through wispy father-daughter moments, teaching her how to hunt, giving her generic homemade tattoos, and blocking out that her mother tried to run away every week. None of it feels authentic enough to buy.
In the 1990s The Marsh King’s Daughter would play like an exciting thriller similar to Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider, or Sleeping with the Enemy. Instead, it plays stale and lacks the kind of characters that those other films made them memorable. There is still going to be a successful acting career for Daisy Ridley outside of Star Wars, but if she wants it, she’s going to have to go far beyond the Marsh.
THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER IS CURRENTLY PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS.
1 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady