The Marsh King’s Daughter Review
The Marsh King’s Daughter (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by Neil Burger, written by Elle Smith, Mark L. Smith and Karen Dionne and starring Daisy Ridley, Ben Mendelsohn, Brooklynn Prince, Gil Birmingham, Caren Pistorius, Garrett Hedlund, Joey Carson, Pamela MacDonald, Joshua Peace, Dan Abramovici, Blair Johannes, Lee Villeneuve, Imali Perera, Sophia Walker and Ash Catherwood.
Neil Burger’s big screen adaptation of the book, The Marsh King’s Daughter, has a lot going for it. This film’s story line is very intriguing and its stars, Daisy Ridley and Brooklynn Prince, are superb in terms of capturing the essence of the character they play, Helena, at different stages of her life. The movie focuses on the story of how Helena was duped into believing her father, Jacob Holbrook (Ben Mendelsohn) loved her when he was doing nothing but manipulating the truth. That harsh reality was that Jacob kidnapped Helena’s mom (Caren Pistorius) and took her into the wilderness, holding her captive for years. As a young girl, Helena (played in the flashback scenes by the young but very capable Prince) held onto the hope that her father was genuine but he was something of a monster who murders a man who comes looking for help at one point early in the picture.
The character of Jacob is actually the most problematic aspect of The Marsh King’s Daughter. Jacob is the “marsh king” of the film’s title and has a lot of influence over Helena’s decisions in the early part of the film. For example, when Helena’s mother tries to escape on a motor bike and take young Helena with her, Helena stops her while screaming that she wants to be with her father. It’s only when Helena grows up to marry a man named Stephen Pelletier (Garrett Hedlund) that she seems to have put the difficult truths of the past behind her. Helena and Stephen have a young daughter named Marigold (Joey Carson) and it will soon become Helena’s job to protect her from the vicious Jacob when he escapes from prison. Jacob is not fleshed out enough to truly hate him but the movie tells us we should. It’s hard to believe Jacob would murder the innocent man at the point that he does. We shouldn’t sympathize with Jacob but, as played by the usually satisfactory Mendelsohn, something is missing in terms of important character development here. He needs to be a monster for the movie to work and he is only portrayed as such when the plot demands that he should be displayed like one. Other times, he seems like a genuine dad. Jacob is a manipulator and the movie could have focused more on how he hoodwinked the young Helena.
The marriage of Helena and Stephen hits a wall when Stephen realizes Helena has lied to him about the reality of her father’s situation. Helena had told him her parents were dead. While her mom committed suicide, Jacob was imprisoned for many years until he escaped when being transported from one facility to another. Gil Birmingham serves as Clark, Helena’s stepfather, but although Birmingham is decent, the character of Clark seems to have been left mostly on the cutting room floor rather than added into the picture as a central character of importance.
Daisy Ridley does a good job digging deep inside the emotionally tortured Helena who seemingly works as an accountant. Helena seems to want to blend in with the world after her tainted past and Ridley shows us the confusion Helena undergoes as she learns her dangerous father is back in the picture again. She begins to remember what her father taught her about survival instincts and Helena is determined to turn the tables on her dad and settle this old score once and for all.
But, the movie only shows us about 25 minutes of confrontational scenes between Jacob and Helena. Too much time is spent on the build up to when Helena and her dad will face off than on the actual face off itself. This film is more than half over when we realize the movie won’t give us as much time between Helena and Jacob together in their older ages as was anticipated by the scenes that precede those aforementioned confrontational ones.
Ridley almost saves the picture because she’s truly intense with a performance that could have felt showy and taken some false steps. Ridley emerges unscathed thanks to her intriguing work in the picture. Prince keeps the flashback scenes the most interesting ones in the movie, though, with her passionate performance and believable emotions and line delivery. As Helena’s mom, Pistorius captures the intensity of her well-written character. Too bad the movie doesn’t use Pistorius’s talents more to showcase the scenes between her and Helena to the point we would actually despise Jacob beyond a reasonable doubt and hope that Helena puts a bullet in his head once and for all. As it plays now, it feels that the movie dictates how we should feel about some of the characters (like Jacob) instead of earning those emotions through sufficient character and plot development.
The Marsh King’s Daughter has an intensity about it that will keep viewers riveted during the first hour. However, it should have worked better. By the time the plot gets into the meat and potatoes of the story line, it feels like too little, too late. Helena finally ends up doing everything she can to keep her new family safe but the ending doesn’t feel as fleshed out as the build up suggests it could have been. This may have been a great book but it feels like this movie is the Cliffs Notes version. There was certainly potential for much more depth to be given to these characters than the movie ultimately delivers to audiences.
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