‘The Marsh King’s Daughter’ Review – Daisy Ridley’s Best Film Ever
For the last several years, Lucasfilm has attempted to make Daisy Ridley a mainstream Hollywood icon and a role model for young girls to look up to, by booking her to be the female face of Disney’s Star Wars. While Ridley has gotten more air time than Roman Reigns, the Rise of Skywalker star is not nearly as over as the Tribal Chief.
The actress’ career outside of Star Wars, however, has been a major letdown. Most people can’t even name a handful of movies Ridley has starred in. As a result, her performances in those other films have been forgettable.
I don’t believe that I’m being out of pocket when I say The Marsh King’s Daughter is the best Daisy Ridley film of all time. Mark L. Smith, who is known for writing the 2015 Oscar-winning film The Revenant, returns to write a psychological thriller that does a better job at making Ridley a strong and sympathetic female character than J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson could pull off in Star Wars.
The Marsh King’s Daughter is a film about a young woman named Helena (Daisy Ridley) who was the victim of an abusive father (Ben Mendelsohn) — who kidnapped and isolated her mother for 12 years, against her will, and raised Helena; giving her the tools to survive on her own in an isolated world until he is brought down by the police and is sent to prison for over 20 years.
Back in the present day, unable to handle the trauma, Helena’s mother takes her own life. Her entire world thrown upside down in the span of a few days, Helena then proceeds to do her best to move on, raise her daughter, and distance themselves from her past.
She changes her name to avoid any public connection to her father. However, while being transported to a maximum security prison, Helena’s father manages to escape — leading the authorities to question Helena in an effort to learn about her father’s whereabouts.
There are many parallels here to a film that came out a couple years ago called Leave no Trace. The film blurred the lines between a celebration of independence and a troubling story of child endangerment. The first act of this film is a father-daughter survival movie, where the dad teaches useful survival tricks to his kid.
Audiences are treated to an uneasy relationship between the father and the daughter due to the fact that, despite appearing like a normal family on the surface, there’s something about the dad that is being withheld from them.
Understanding that there’s more to their relationship than meets the eye, the film presents us with an adult Helena — the representation of a woman struggling to overcome her past experience with trauma, despite living an otherwise normal life.
For the first time in several years, Daisy Ridley plays a strong female character to success. A woman who has been given all of the tools to survive on her own but struggles the overcome the human aspect of trauma — using her painful experiences from the past to find and overcome the odds.
This is something we don’t see in modern day feminist storytelling; a woman who is not perfect from the very beginning and gets better as the story goes on. Helena is anything but bulletproof, quite literally.
She shows strength but insecurity when it comes to the manipulative nature of the relationship she has with her father.
The character is shown to be flawed both emotionally and physically, but she never loses her resolve — as a result, her character humbles herself to the audience that the film is presenting to.
This isn’t a bottle film by any stretch of the definition but the cinematography of the movie is very intimate giving the impression that the film has a much smaller scale than it does. Ben Mendelsohn has a masterful screen presence given his limited screen time as opposed to the time the audience spends with Ridley’s character.
The only flaw in the movie is the film’s third act. A pretty good setup and a good emotional flow to the story, the film stumbles into a very predictable route, making it difficult to stand out amongst other films released in 2023.
With a stronger ending, and maybe a more exciting conclusion, The Marsh King’s Daughter is a movie that could have snuck into my Top 10 for the best movies of the year.
While the film misses being on the top tier list, The Marsh King’s Daughter is worth a watch if you haven’t seen Daisy Ridley in a standout role outside of the Kathleen Kennedy-controlled Star Wars universe.