Home > Reviews > THE KING’S DAUGHTER – Joseph Metcalfe, John Coda, and Grant Kirkhope

THE KING’S DAUGHTER – Joseph Metcalfe, John Coda, and Grant Kirkhope

January 28, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Back in 2013 director Sean McNamara began pre-production on a film version of the popular 1997 fantasy novel ‘The Moon and the Sun’ by Vonda McIntyre, and worked with screenwriters Barry Berman and James Schamus on the script. The story involves King Louis XIV of France – the Sun King – who is searching for the secret to immortality, having recently survived an assassination attempt. Eventually King Louis’s efforts leads to the discovery of a mermaid named Sherzad, the last of her kind, whose flesh is rumored to make the eater immortal. Meanwhile a young cellist named Marie-Josèphe comes to the court, unaware that she is actually the king’s illegitimate daughter. Marie-Josèphe and Sherzad arrive at Versailles simultaneously, and unexpectedly form a connection; later, when Marie-Josèphe falls in love with a handsome courtier named Yves de la Croix, she vows to save Sherzad from a terrible fate: ritual sacrifice during a lunar eclipse.

All of this sounds very promising, a fantasy adventure with opulent visuals, an interesting story, and potential for lots of swashbuckling action and soaring romance. Director McNamara gathered an excellent cast – Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, William Hurt, Benjamin Walker, Fan Bingbing – and they shot the film on location at the actual palace of Versailles. They wrapped filming in May 2014… and then the film sat on a shelf for almost eight years, trapped in distribution hell. During that time they apparently tinkered with the special effects, and then passed it from distribution company to distribution company, until it eventually staggered into cinemas in January 2022. Co-stars Kaya Scodelario and Benjamin Walker – who met while making this film – got married and had two children in the time it took for the thing to come out. They will celebrate their tenth anniversary in a couple of years. Unfortunately, but not unpredictably, critics have not been kind to the film, with one writer calling it a “laughably bad movie that seems like a parody, but with no self-awareness about how awful it is,” and with another writer quipping “you’d think with close to a decade’s worth of post production time, you could assemble a coherent narrative and decent special effects”.

Inevitably, the score for The King’s Daughter was affected by all this hoopla too. The film was originally supposed to be scored by composer Heitor Pereira, whose initial ideas were rejected for being too dark. Eventually, for reasons that are much too convoluted to go into here, the finished product was scored by three composers: British newcomer Joseph Metcalfe (for whom this is his feature debut), American composer John Coda (who scored several of director McNamara’s earlier films including 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain, and Bratz), and British game music specialist Grant Kirkhope, whose work here sees him continuing his efforts to secure film assignments alongside his massively popular and successful video game career, and follows hot on the heels of his debut feature The Handler last year. The score was recorded with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, and for the most part it’s a great success. It’s a big, sweeping, fantasy adventure score which also features some pretty renaissance touches and flourishes that acknowledge both the film’s period setting and the French location.

The score album is split between the three composers, who all worked independently of each other, which means there’s not a lot of thematic cohesion or recurring content between the three of them, but it all flows nicely anyway, and has an appealing overall tone. Joseph Metcalfe gets 36 minutes on the soundtrack, John Coda gets 29 minutes, and Grant Kirkhope gets 11, and one source cue is a minuet by Nicholas Britell – quite how he got involved in this is a mystery. It’s lyrical, elegant, and fully orchestral; regal brass fanfares evoke the grandiosity of life in the royal court of King Louis, and pretty romantic themes anchor the central love story between Marie-Josèphe and Yves, while story book fantasy textures enhanced by a choir speak to the part of the film involving the magical mermaid. There are also one or two big action sequences – swashbuckling sword fights, galloping horse chases – which are mostly handled by Kirkhope, who has tons of experience with this sort of large-scale scoring from his game music days.

In terms of Metcalfe’s music, several cues stand out. “Destiny Begins” has a nice sense of grandeur that sets the scene. “News of the Mermaid” has a sense of flamboyance and regal opulence with its flashy brass fanfares. “Confession” has whimsical pizzicato textures, and a delightful woodwind melody towards the end of the piece that appears to be the first iteration is a recurring theme for Marie-Josèphe that also appears in “New Quarters” and others. “Call from the Cave” is charming and infused with magic, mostly via the prominent use of harps and metallic percussion; the subsequent “Swimming with the Mermaid” and “Mermaid Speaks with Yves” build on these magical ideas with softly textured choirs and graceful, whimsical string atmospherics that give the mermaid a sense of peacefulness and ethereal beauty.

Later, cues like “Contemplation,” “Priest Is Touched,” and “Command Me Oh Heavenly Father” offer some more serious string chords and phrases that touch on the darker aspects of the story, while “MJ Sees the Capture” becomes quite urgent and insistent, a mass of hooting woodwinds and undulating strings. “Sneaking the Plans” builds up a head of steam and drama as the plot to rescue Sherzad takes root, and Metcalfe allows his strings and brass to rise to meet the challenge, while “Escape the Grotto” is a Korngold-style action sequence full of flashing strings and bold brass exclamations, set against insistent rhythmic ideas. “Forgive Me Father” is anchored by a lovely, tender violin solo, and the conclusive “A Swim Through Atlantis” is lush and carefree.

John Coda’s music is perhaps a little more playful and innocent than Metcalfe’s, as he tends to concentrate on the aspect of the score that deals with the mermaid, and the romance between Marie-Josèphe and Yves. It’s very lovely music, pretty and charming, with a more pronounced fairytale sound that is very appealing, but perhaps a little more childish in its tone. Cues like “The Joy of the Sea” explore this sound detail, with feather-like strings, chimes, and soft choral textures dominating. “Journey to the Palace” has a more strident middle section, while “For All France” and “MJ’s Jump” are his primary action efforts, all chugging strings and important-sounding crescendos.

Interestingly, some sequences in Coda’s section of the score – notably cues like “Appearance Is Everything,” “Be Ready,” “Planning the Escape,” and others – feature some contemporary percussion that reminds me a bit of James Newton Howard, maybe John Powell. Elsewhere, “Meeting the Mermaid,” “The Mermaid’s Song,” and the joyous “Riding with the Mermaid” are soft and ethereal, like a lullaby, with whispering vocals and glittery chimes adding to the magical atmosphere, and the latter also showcasing a rich cello line. The melody that runs through these cues is transferred to a string quartet in the delightful “Morning Song,” and culminates in the beautiful “Graced with Wings,” which has a poise and sophistication to it that is really lovely.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, Grant Kirkhope gets the majority of the big action sequences, and these really shine. “Adventure Sails” is a big seafaring swashbuckler, rousing brass fanfares atop swirling, surging strings that have a touch of a pirate hornpipe about them. “Religion vs Science” and “Purpose of the Mermaid” are thoughtful pieces for chimes and pizzicato strings, and “Ballroom” is a superb piece of renaissance pastiche that conjures up images of courtly lords and ladies in finery, waltzing around the famed Rococo Grove. “Horse Riding” has a sense of unfettered ebullience, galloping hooves and hair blowing in the wind, and this sound is developed further in the brilliant “Ride to the Cliff Edge,” which is wild and rich and allows the listener to experience the desperation in Marie-Josèphe as she races away from the palace; it’s full of wonderfully dark brass phrases accompanied by complicated string figures and heavy, imposing percussion, and finishes with a flourish.

The main drawback to The King’s Daughter – and it really is a big drawback – is the fact that the thematic content has no cross-pollination between the three composers. As much as the three composers tried to give the score a consistent sound, you can clearly tell when the work of one composer stops and another starts, and the fact that Coda doesn’t quote any of Metcalfe’s themes, and vice versa, leaves the score without much of a sense of itself. Individually, the music of all three composers is excellent, but ultimately it would have been better for the film for one composer to score all of it: one theme for Marie-Josèphe, one theme for the King, one theme for the Mermaid, one love theme. As it is you get multiple ideas representing all these things, all mish-mashed together, and this never allows the score to develop any internal cohesion.

However, as a listening experience, The King’s Daughter nevertheless entertains for its 75+ minute running time. The romance and magic that Metcalfe and Coda bring to the story of the mermaid, and to the relationship between Marie-Josèphe and Yves, is genuinely lovely, and the tone is such that it will appeal to anyone who enjoys light historical fantasy scores with lush orchestrations and elegant choirs. The, when you add Kirkhope’s excellent action music into the mix, it just makes the whole package stronger. The lack of coherent internal musical architecture is a drawback but, honestly, when you consider the post-production nightmare that The King’s Daughter suffered through, I’m astonished it turned out as good as it did.

Buy the King’s Daughter soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Joy of the Sea (1:15)
  • Destiny Begins (2:14)
  • Adventure Sails (2:10)
  • News of the Mermaid (1:57)
  • Journey to the Palace (1:58)
  • Confession (1:22)
  • Girl Chatter (0:42)
  • Appearance Is Everything (1:42)
  • Meeting the King (1:43)
  • New Quarters (2:00)
  • Religion vs Science (0:51)
  • King Sees the Mermaid (1:04)
  • Call from the Cave (1:32)
  • Meeting the Mermaid (1:03)
  • The Mermaid’s Song (1:26)
  • Morning Song (1:14)
  • Ballroom (2:13)
  • Minuet (written by Nicholas Britell) (1:06)
  • Fireworks (0:38)
  • Garden Drawing (1:15)
  • Swimming with the Mermaid (1:50)
  • Horse Riding (1:36)
  • God Is with Her (1:00)
  • Mermaid Speaks with Yves (0:43)
  • Healing (1:12)
  • Purpose of the Mermaid (1:01)
  • Riding with the Mermaid (0:59)
  • For All France (2:25)
  • Contemplation (2:26)
  • Priest Is Touched (0:46)
  • MJ Sees the Capture (1:55)
  • Command Me Oh Heavenly Father (2:58)
  • Sneaking the Plans (3:01)
  • Be Ready (1:21)
  • Contemplate the Future (1:41)
  • Graced with Wings (2:36)
  • Planning the Escape (1:48)
  • Escape the Grotto (3:02)
  • Ride to the Cliff Edge (2:52)
  • MJ’s Jump (2:57)
  • Forgive Me Father (1:51)
  • First Kiss (2:41)
  • Father Daughter Dance (1:07)
  • Destiny (1:19)
  • Once Upon a Mermaid (1:33)
  • A Swim Through Atlantis (1:19)

Running Time: 77 minutes 06 seconds

Sum Of All Music (2022)

Music composed by Joseph Metcalfe, John Coda and Grant Kirkhope. Conducted by Joseph Metcalfe and John Coda. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. Orchestrations by Joseph Metcalfe, Tim Davies, Jeremy Borum, Adam Klemens and Kyle Randall. Recorded and mixed by Jan Holzner and Casey Stone. Edited by XXXX. Album produced by Robert Kraft, Joseph Metcalfe, John Coda, Grant Kirkhope and Katie Garibaldi.

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